Last year, while packing up all my belongings in preparation for a move to our new home, I had the hardest time finding old newspapers to wrap up my dishes in. It seems that most of the old pay boxes in Madison had been removed due to a lack of use. When I thought about it, it made sense. Why pay for the Plain Dealer when you can read it on line? Why read anything that makes your fingers dirty when you can read a whole host of e-new web sites? So what did I do? I ripped the bindings out of all my old map books and wrapped my dishes in old maps. Why? Because who uses a map anymore? You can print out destination specific directions on line, or better yet, stick a gps minicomputer in your car (if your car doesn’t already have on installed). Or use the gps app on your phone.
ON YOUR PHONE… REALLY … What? Not surprised? Oh, I get it. That’ because you don’t remember these:
Once upon a time, this was all you had to make phone calls with. It sat on its very own little table in the hallway by your front door, possibly by your stairs. The table would have had two shelves, one for the phone, and one for the phone book, which you used because that was the only way to locate the phone number of the person you needed to contact. And in those days of rotary phones, you remembered everyone’s phone number in your head. If you weren’t home and someone called, there was no way for you to know you had missed that call. So you didn’t miss it. If it was important, that person who tried to contact you when you were not there, simply tried to call you again at a different time of day, or on another day. That was how communication was done.
In order to use this style of telephone, you stuck you finger in the hole of the corresponding number and spun the dial around counter clockwise until your finger met the little piece of metal that indicated the end of the rotation. Then you pulled your finger out of the hole and let the dial return to its original position. Once the dial had returned to its original position, you stuck your finger in the hole that corresponded to the next digit of the person’s phone number and you repeated these steps until you had dialed all seven digits of the person’s number. This action was all that this piece of technology was capable of doing. Over time, however, technology improved. Eventually if you tapped one of the two small plastic projectiles that the receiver rested on, you could entertain a second phone call while your first caller was on hold on another line. In the late 1980’s answering machines were invented. Until that time, missed calls were simply missed, and nobody died.
We are currently living amidst a revolution that can only be compared to two other moments in history: the agricultural revolution, which led to humans transitioning from being nomadic tribesmen to living sedentary, stationary lives, and the industrial revolution which took humans off the homestead and set up gender biased work roles and made us consumers of capitalism rather than producers of our own egalitarian needs and wants. All three of these revolutions advanced the human race. All three of these revolutions had their cheerleaders and opponents.
What is progress? Henry David Thoreau complained that the horse drawn carriage would lead men to live a faster paced life. He lamented that we would soon forget to notice the beauty of God’s majesty if we grew accustomed to this new high speed travel. Each revolution brings us greater conveniences and an equal number of detractors. I for one love reading the Huffington post, or the Guardian. I don’t at all miss newspaper ink on my fingers. And it is difficult to argue with phone apps like instagram and pintrist which let us glimpse all the sunrises and beautiful infants and puppies that bless the lives of our friends who share these moment s with us. But is life amid all this technology better?
Detractors point to evidence such as shorter attention spans from the 22 minutes we used to have thanks to the half hour sitcom to our frustration at the seconds it takes a phone app to load now being seen as an inconvenience. Some websites now estimate how long it will take you to read an article before you click on it, in case you don’t have more than three minutes to spare. Is always being in a rush to see the latest Kardashian fashion faux pas an improvement on life’s previous quality? Is always being accessible by virtue of a portable telephone that can double as a calculator, triple as a gps, and quadruple as a camera an invasion of privacy or a way to keep tabs on your children and your spouse?
And then there was the Mumbai bombing, the uprising in Iran, and the whole Arab Spring. Without the use of cellphone tweets and facebook photos, governments that could previously censor and control their media have since lost that ability completely. Technology has liberated, defrocked and called attention to outrage, murder and rape.
Every revolution has its detractors. Usually it’s us old folks who refuse to admit to anomic feelings of frustration. We just don’t like change and we don’t want to be left behind. Today, I left my cell phone at home. No one will be able to contact me until I return home later this evening. I don’t think I’m going to miss much. Oh wait, now I can't text Virginia to find out when this is due!