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  Where Are Our Shoes?  
  Late one afternoon, as I was busy paddling my way along the electronic bayous of the Internet, something splashed across the keys of the computer. Livid orange, a bit runnier than reconstituted papaya juice, it would wreak havoc with soldered circuit boards and semiconductors. I quickly wiped the keyboard with my sleeve.  
  A second later, I realized it wasn't juice or liquid at all. Not yet, anyway. It was still just light, though Gravensteins and Jonathans hanging from summer boughs were no doubt imbibing sprays of it at that very moment. In time, through some arcane process of apple alchemy, they would turn the beams streaming from the fusion reactor tens of millions of miles away, at the center of our solar system, into a refreshing substance lucky folks would pour down parched throats in seasons to come.  
  I looked up. Around me were twenty glowing computer screens, each with its person attached. Engrossed, hypnotized, these were real surfers, riding silicon breakers to the perfect beaches of virtual reality. They hadn't noticed the paddler in their midst, foolishly trying to mop sun off plastic keys. They hadn't noticed the orb itself, about the size of a tangerine, melting into the sea beyond the cliffs, nor the lone buck a few yards from the stuffy computer lab, his black lips lowered to the tender grass recently sown by our local junior college's maintenance men.  
  I headed over to the window. I was thinking about my grandfather, about the loamy soil on his farm, and how he always insisted the most important thing in life is to learn the shortest path from the ground to the mouth. After a few moments, one of the surfers sighed, annoyed by the glare on his computer screen which made the results of his Internet search engine query unreadable. Perhaps the query was about Nefertiti, the propagation of short-wave radio stations, the decline of the elegiac couplet or the best way to market square watermelons. In any event, I was asked, as long as I was already up, to please draw the blinds.  

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  Busy old fool, unruly sun. That used to be a complaint lovers voiced, lamenting that the night, made for loving, was too short. Nowadays the source of precious light is apparently a cybernetic nuisance as well as an amatory one. The people responsible for computers probably didn't think much about sunlight when they were building them. They certainly didn't take into account the fact that the number of revolutions our planet makes around the sun would eventually reach 2000. That's the rub with progress. It takes us to some new place, but when we arrive there we discover that we've unwittingly left something vital behind.  
  On the other side of the sea, beyond the blinds I closed, lies the Land of the Rising Sun. A year after our own Commodore Perry visited, bringing the residents of the remote island a taste of Yankee technological wizardry, a Russian ship sailed into Yokohama harbor. The Russians also tried to wow the emperor and notables who came aboard. They demonstrated for their guests the usefulness of an array of gadgets, including telescopes and chronometers, big cannons, toenail clippers, pistols and porcelain false teeth. What delighted and impressed the Japanese most, however, was the model railroad the admiral had set up in his cabin to amuse himself during the long voyage from Saint Petersburg.  
  The emperor wanted one, too. When it was explained to him that this bonsai railroad could also be made big enough to carry real people on a ride, the emperor was astonished. Much to the Russians' chagrin, he was soon involved in complicated schemes for financial and technical assistance from rival agents of Her Britannic Majesty.  
  On October 13, 1872, the railway made its maiden voyage from Tokyo to Yokohama. The emperor, flanked by a host of dignitaries and regal ladies, left the imperial palace amid much fanfare. The route of the jubilant, colorful procession led through the Ginza district, crowded with shoppers and well-wishers, to spanking new Shimbashi station. The parlor cars, spotless, plush, carpeted, equipped with dazzling brass fixtures and commodes, were hung with festive banners. The emperor and his retinue naturally removed their shoes before entering. When they arrived in Yokohama, eager to begin their scheduled tour of the port, their shoes were right where they'd left them -- on the platform at Shimbashi station.  
  I don't know exactly what happened next, but I can imagine their shock and confusion as they asked each other, where are our shoes? I can sympathize with the imperial party's embarrassment and discomfort as it walked barefoot through the grimy streets of the sprawling harbor. Perhaps they had parasols to shade their blushes.  
  Is this the secret purpose of technology in the divine plan, to make us recognize our fundamental nakedness by revealing our vulnerability to our own inventiveness? With the blinds closed, the faces of the young enthusiasts in the computer lab glowed like phosphorescent masks in the herky-jerky aqua light from color monitors. Before walking out onto the headlands to drink the rosy grenadine glow of the sunset, I paused in the doorway to look back, wondering how many of us would be asking, where are our shoes, when we arrived wherever we thought we were going.  

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