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Originally published Friday, May 17, 2013 at 4:08 PM

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As the world spins faster, bigger, louder

Life has speeded up. Sensation trumps. If you have enough perspective, you might think things have grown frantic, writes guest columnist Charles E. Kraus.

Special to The Times

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I'm with you, Charles. We've had the best of it. Life used to be so free. Now, we... MORE
Per capita gun violence is down dramatically over the past 20 years, Charles. Other... MORE
Ah, the good ole 1950s when we had party line phones and quotas on Jews at Harvard... MORE


HAVE you ever watched a computer geek whip through assorted levels of code and programming, fixing, adjusting, creating technological miracles at the keyboard?

When I see this, I sometimes think, what would these guys be doing if there were no computers? It’s fascinating. Dormant superpowers were buried within their minds, just waiting for opportunities to unfold.

Then I look at the availability of guns, of twisted anthems and searchable belief systems lurking on the Internet, at the plethora of hallucinogenic and other mind distorters, at the roster of charismatic enablers.

I recall recent headlines: “Pressure-cooker bombs,” “School shooting in Newtown,” “Five dead In Federal Way.” I recall these, and wonder what latent inclinations are just waiting for an opportunity to emerge and generate more havoc.

When I was a teen, you could get a cup of coffee for a nickel. Later, I remember catching a meal at the International House of Pancakes and finding they sold coffee by the endlessly refillable pitcher. It wasn’t a nickel, but seemed like an excellent value.

Apartments were tiny. By the mid ’50s, we had moved into a house in the burbs. Compared with today’s floor plans, my childhood home was an elaborate garage. Houses have gotten much bigger these days. People seem to need more space.

Our first television had an extremely small screen with a magnifying lens in front of it that enlarged and somewhat distorted the black and white picture. There were a handful of stations; most signed off for the night around 11 p.m.

On television and in the movies, violence was insinuated. Fights were brief. Often a punch or two defeated the bad guy. Hostilities were not depicted graphically. A slam to the jaw equaled a knockout. No blood. No prolonged suffering. After the movie, we went to White Castle to enjoy 15-cent hamburgers.

Now, the hamburgers are supersized. Waiters refill your cup each time you take a sip of coffee. Or maybe you order the venti, half-soy, half-skim mocha with an extra pump of chocolate and some foam. That coffee costs about five bucks.

Movies do not only show close-ups of violent acts, they slow them down, 3-D them, HD them, cover them from every conceivable angle, exaggerate them, making sure viewers get the full-screen presentation.

We need more choices. Larger portions. More assertive, confrontational, emotional, doctrinaire talk shows and political theater.

When I was a youngster roaming the streets of New York City, there were gangs. The play and movie “West Side Story” turned the ’50s turf battles into jazz dancing.

The gangs were not companies of jazz dancers. They were pockets of alienation. Kids got beaten up, mostly with sticks, clubs and a variety of brass knuckles. There were switchblades. Later, there were pipe-guns.

Now, of course, gangs have automatic weapons. Some would call that technological progress. Apprentice sociopaths didn’t have a lot of tools back when I was in the school yard. They didn’t have an array of despicable homegrown models and attitudes, didn’t realize the range of sadistic options.

Life has speeded up. Sensation trumps. If you have enough perspective, you might think things have grown frantic. I do.

Charles E. Kraus lives and writes in Seattle.

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