Darryl Pinckney

       My friends in New York live at increasingly different levels of technology. R. and I shared an aisle as editorial assistants at a publishing company 20 years ago. A shy, studious Polish Catholic from Chicago and Stanford, he became one of those Manhattanites who never wanted to leave the city on weekends or during summers. He zoomed up and down the avenues on his bicycle, a tall, lean, furiously pedaling figure on his way to the newest vegetable market. His kitchen was redefined by gadgetry first, then the speakers in his Chelsea loft got taller and thinner and sleeker every year. I’d never heard of laser discs until one visit when I expressed surprise that he would condescend to own old-fashioned vinyl records. Now, as a publishing executive, his computer does everything except the laundry. It even talks, which can be disconcerting when his parrot, having acquired a completely obscene vocabulary, is in the mood to compete. R. explained to me why he prefers computer bulletin boards to e-mail or the real time of chat rooms. He posted a question about his bicycle and got answers from as far away as Norway. I asked why he couldn’t phone the bicycle shop on the corner. He said he doubted they would have told him what he wanted to know. He said they would have said that they were too busy to bother.
       After leaving R., I called on F., alone on her 40th birthday. She has decided to grow dreadlocks again. It’s been hard for her as a single mother and the lead vocalist of a rock band. Her band, Faith, is very good, but what does a brilliant CD mean for the way she lives in today’s market? F. has been a star to her friends always. F. is also her mother’s child. Her mother got her out of Detroit and into Barnard. So F. started taking her son to interviews at private schools around town as soon as he could speak. She tries to make sure that her choice to be a musician doesn’t mean too many sacrifices for her child. But she worries, because his classmates lead lives very different from his. This princess of the New Wave now lives in midtown, along 10th Avenue. A degree in English, she said, can get you a job as a waitress or a secretary. She works at a telecharge company. She takes ticket orders by phone. Two hundred a day. She says it is very monotonous, which is perhaps why few people seem to last longer than six years at it. The work force is mixed–black, Hispanic, gay, discarded white. Most of the older people consider themselves lucky to have a job at all, even if it’s one without benefits of any kind. Most had been laid off from someplace else and, at the age of 50 or 60, had little hope of finding anything. F. said she sees the 100 or so of them at their computer terminals and thinks that this is what the postmodern factory floor looks like. They have no contact with the executives of the company. No one comes along to praise their work or give them a chance upstairs. There is no upstairs and management’s presence is mostly punitive. You can get fired for telling off customers or for using inappropriate language. You can get written up for any number of infractions, including reading on the job. The majority of the black and Hispanic workers are Pentecostal Christian. They break up their day with prayer or exclaim “Hallelujah” over the glowing screens. F. said it was strange to walk along the rows and see so many people hunched under the tables of computer keyboards, trying not to get written up for reading the Bibles in their laps. F. asked about R. and also about E., R’s partner. E. begins each morning with an armada of pills, which is his relationship to technology.