According to an early cliche-writer, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Time for a digital update: A journal of a thousand files begins with a single logon.
We certainly are a digital people. That will be more true soon when the government forces broadcasters to flip the switch and eliminate analog television signals.
Gone will be the days of picking up local television shows on rabbit-ear antennas. We'll instead have to squeeze the over-the-air broadcast through a box that electronically converts it to digital so more signals from "reality" shows can fit through the air.
(Clogging the atmosphere with such nonsense causes smog and global warming. That's my theory.)
But that long-delayed switch to digital TV is just a formality. The rest of our lives went digital long ago.
Except for maybe a watch with a dial on it and the printed version of this newspaper, nearly everything around you is digital: computers, clocks, cars, telephones, all linked in a planet-girdling network.
This network will someday become self-aware and sentient. It will then take over the earth, and we will be reduced to a violent fight for survival against killer robots.
At least that's what the plot of "Terminator" tells us.
Paradoxically, as we have become more and more connected, instantly available and endlessly updated, tweeting and facebooking and blogging and texting, we have become less in touch with each other than ever.
Look at any group of teens. Each will have a phone in hand, rapidly messaging other teens. Who they are with isn't important; what matters is who else they can talk to so their level of energy-drink-and-Adderall-fueled sensory input stays peaked.
Where is this leading? How the heck do I know? Just as a flurry of a thousand blizzards begins with a single snowflake, I'm merely floating through this digital storm as we take the analog step of handing high school students a diploma and sledding them down the slope to adult life.
Columbia County grads snagged their diplomas yesterday at Augusta's James Brown Arena and Airhorn Test Facility. They managed this feat without a speech from me, as once again I was passed over by the Philistines in charge of booking commencement speakers.
But just as a speech of a thousand blurbs begins with a single anecdote, I annually lament this invitation oversight in memory of my friend and fellow writer Aubrey Shaw, who went to his grave before anyone in the school system had the good sense to ask him to speak at graduation.
Aubrey certainly would have had a lot to say about this phenomena of digital connectedness and personal aloofness, even if he wouldn't have understood it any better than I do.
I don't think any of us understands where it's all going, unless we really believe that "Terminator" stuff. But we are slowly finding out.
Ask yourself: In this increasingly intrusive electronic era, what thing are we discovering that is most rare and precious? Besides the "Shamwow," I mean.
It's disconnected time. The goal for vacation these days, other than hoping our job is still there when we return, is to go "off the grid." We want to spend time speaking to other human beings, face to face, without a digital leash tethering us to an office.
But we aren't stopping there. We're spending more time worrying about our environment - not the virtual world of the Internet, but the actual world of grass and trees and bunny rabbits. We're even relearning how to grow food and save water and compost kitchen scraps.
We used to do all that stuff as a matter of survival. And if the day comes that the digital framework collapses from a Nigerian scam spam or the rebellion of killer robots, the people who remember how to cook over a fire or add and subtract with a pencil and paper will lead us to recovery.
To this year's graduates, then, I say this: You're already experts at talking the digital talk. Just don't forget how to walk the analog walk.
It's in your best interest to do so, grads. Because in the land of the power failure, the man with a candle is king.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail barry.paschal@newstimes online.com.
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