A friend insists I need a word processor. “I am one,” I tell him. He laughs, encourages me to find out about them anyway.

Looking through the sales literature, I want to laugh, but the messianic ardor discourages all but the darkest humor. The idea that word processors will make us better writers, or that faster access to information is going to save us — now that’s a joke. Remember “the promise of television”? How about “atoms for peace”? Back in the Fifties, the vision of cheap, clean nuclear energy was a progressive cause. Now, the micro-chip is being pimped on every corner as the answer to our needs — needs we didn’t even know we had.

Need, after all, is relative. The President needs more weapons; the hungry need food; people who never learned to add need a computer to balance their checkbook. As a nation, and individually, what we need keeps changing — and, paradoxically, as more needs are met, the more unmet needs are discovered.

This is hardly an American phenomenon, or the fault of Madison Avenue. Blame it on the nature of ego, if there’s a need to blame. But why bother? Fish swim, birds fly, the ego hungers: for food, for shelter, for the penthouse suite. Perhaps for understanding. Those who make little distinction between knowledge and wisdom make the computer their guru; others make their flesh-and-blood guru a god. Which is more foolish, or less human?

The other night, I sat on the porch with my wife and a friend; he spoke passionately of his need for companionship, for family. If only he’d meet the right woman, he said, he’d be happy. Well, said my wife, being happily married has shown her how much of her own unhappiness comes from inside her.

I didn’t have much to say, but it got me to thinking about my needs: which ones I learn to satisfy simply, by straightforwardly acknowledging they exist; which ones I still deny, or distort into monster shapes, or advertise — as luridly as the computer salesmen — as the answer to my longings. I thought about how I still sometimes confuse getting my needs met with happiness, and happiness with peace.

— Sy