y American friend likes weather. He uses his Smartphone to visualize its mood swings. He speculates what part of his day bad weather might affect. He points out digital pigtails of orange and red — heavy rain — that might ruin his weekend. “That one’s moving fast,” he’ll say, scrolling through a blur of itinerant Technicolor. If nothing’s happening, he may announce, “There’s weather coming in from the south,” the word “weather” meaning “bad weather,” a negative by association. Airline pilots do much the same, “We’ve got some weather up ahead…” or “Weather’s passing through…”
But what else might be up ahead if not weather? Dragons? Gargoyles? Angels?
My friend sometimes broadcasts weather patterns he sees on his phone to his TV screen so that clumps of green, yellow and red circles light up the room. “See that cell at the bottom left,” he’ll say. “That’s the one that’ll hit us. That’s probably at least two inches of rain. Then it’s supposed to head north.”
Long before minutely detailed forecasts and color-coded alerts, weather was the greatest show on earth. People always pondered the nervous sky’s next move while praying to many gods to keep the sure-thing apocalypse at bay. Any soothsayer worth his salt could predict a storm — or should. Any good shipboard navigator could sense a tempest — or should. Weather mattered more than the specialized reading of entrails.
My friend likes it that he doesn’t need to guess. He’s shown what’ll happen and told of the consequences.
He’s attracted to dire forecasts because they supply an additional dramatic layer atop a day composed of human drama, which is less agreeable, and forecast-able.
What he doesn’t like is when towns and municipalities preventively shut down their activities ahead of a storm (“Three inches of snow and they’re closing schools!”)
In a car, driving south, he’ll stare into his phone and talk about fronts forming in Montana, in Idaho, in China. “There’s a monster system near Guam,” he’ll announce, his Smartphone fingers moving like oars to enlarge the red spots. “That’s probably a four, maybe even a five,” he’ll say, this time to himself. Or he’ll tell his wife to take a secondary road: “I think we can dodge that cell if we go just a little west.” He likes to win at weather.
I in turn carry nothing Smart, which he finds incomprehensible. Why, he wonders, should I expose myself to avoidable problems, unnecessary delays?
If only so much smartness didn’t water down my needy dreaming.
It reminds me of a time 50 years ago when I trudged to school through a Washington blizzard in what seemed like a whited out city. But school had been canceled. I spent the morning frolicking in the snow while cherishing the surprise. I wouldn’t have wanted a forecast. I might have stayed in.
Glowing phones are the cornerstones of a culture that makes a point of wanting to stay ahead of all that might go wrong. They’re the newly venerated handmaidens of prophylactic intelligence.
But they do little for human resourcefulness, which you acquire only by venturing into one storm, then another, slowly becoming aware of the many complications of coping, and perhaps learning how to batten down life’s hatches along the way.