Saturday, July 11, 2015

Back In My Day (Say It Like a Grumpy Old Man)

I remember watching this
on our black-and-white TV
that had 3 channels when
weather was good.
I'm sitting at my desk in front of a laptop computer that is more powerful than the one that was in the first rocket that went to the moon. My phone, basically a hand-held computer on which I can call or Skype anyone in the country for no extra charge, sits in front of me. To my left, I'm watching Wimbledon on a 60-inch HDTV. Somewhere in this room is a Kindle Fire with dozens of books stored on it. My dad has a laptop and smartphone. My mom has a cell phone. There are two printers in our house. There are, I estimate, five home phone extensions in the house. There are four more HDTVs in the house, all with dozens of HD cable channels. And, by connecting my laptop to my TV, I can access thousands and thousands of movies via Netflix. Type in (or simply say) the name of a song and chances are I can listen to it instantly, while learning who wrote it, who else recorded it, and what other songs are available from the same artists.
Why am I saying all this? Because this is the new norm. We are completely steeped in technology. I am on the tail end of a generation that remembers when it wasn't this way. Students in my classes don't remember a time when cell phones, tablets, and laptop computers weren't ubiquitous. Because of that, I believe, they mostly don't really appreciate how far we've come. That's neither good nor bad; it's just true. 

rotary telephone, vintage, antique, oldschool
Dialing used to mean actually dialing
all the numbers again. You had to actually think
about how badly you wanted to talk to this person.
I grew up in a house with one phone. It was attached to the wall in the dining room. It had a rotary dial. Making a long distance call was a commitment, not just because you paid by the minute but also because it took a while to dial in all the numbers. And if you dialed a digit wrong part-way through, you had to start over. None of this backspace crap. Or, for that matter, redial, caller ID, or contact lists. If you wanted to store someone's phone number, you wrote it down in an actual physical address book, something you got a new one of occasionally because the old one was filled with scratched out and changed numbers. Or you ran out of pages if you were popular. That was never an issue for me, but I heard stories. 

And don't even get me started on busy signals.  They were enough to make you cry, especially if you really needed or wanted to talk to that person. I was dating a beautiful young woman named Tammy who went away to Lynchburg, Virginia to college (that whole thing is post unto itself if I ever get the courage to share just how big a horse's butt I was in ruining that). We could write to each other--on paper with pens--but in order to talk, we arranged that I would call her at a certain time on a certain evening. There was one phone per floor in her dorm, so if any of the other girls was on the phone, it was busy. I was to just keep trying every five minutes until it wasn't busy. Sometimes it would take an hour before I got through. So when we finally got to talk, we took advantage of it. That weekly call to Tammy was an event. Everyone in the family knew to stay out of the dining room, not because we were saying secret things, but because we wanted to be able to concentrate on each other with no distractions for that--literal--few minutes we had with each other. And if the phone bill was too big because we didn't watch the clock enough, the calls got cancelled for the next month. 

My friend Lori. I got this picture from
her Facebook page. It took five
minutes including the time it took to 
message her to ask if I could use it.
I think that's the thing that young people are missing out on. They may not be able to be physically together with their friends, families, or significant others sometimes, but they may never again experience that feeling of giddiness when they actually get to hear their loved one's voice or see their face the way we used to. There's Skype and Facetime and whatever other video chat platforms that were nothing more than the stuff of science fiction when I was a kid. This is not to mention all the other social media outlets, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, and whatever is the new hot site that allows you instant access to pictures and videos from anyone in the world. And there's texting and cell phone service in the farthest reaches of the developed world. I have a friend, a former member of my youth group, who does ministry in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We email and Facebook message more often than I used to be able to talk to my high school girlfriend who lived two counties away (different girl and yet another story for someday--this one wasn't my fault) in Glenville. 

reading, book, girl, woman, people, sunshine, summer, lake, water
This isn't me. I just liked the picture.
And it illustrates my point.
So is all this technology and ability to be in constant contact good or bad? Yes. Am I thankful to be able to be in touch with my good friend Lori who lives almost literally on the other side of the world? Yes, to be sure. And I'm glad to be able to text or call my brother in Virginia without giving much of a thought. But there's a feeling I miss and that's the feeling of actually missing someone. Getting to actually see that person was an OCCASION. When the vast majority of your communication with someone is written with an occasional phone call that is limited because you pay by the minute, it really means something when you finally get to look at them, hug them, kiss them. I really don't think young people can appreciate that the way we did back in my day. 
A borg cube. It's actually a refrigerator.
No, I'm not kidding. I want it.

Everything's a trade-off. You get constant contact, but you trade it for really missing people in a way that actually does make the heart grow fonder. You get to always be in touch, but you trade that in for actually getting to be with yourself to think; to grow; to pray; to figure out just who you are, independent of others. 

I fear we may be voluntarily becoming like that scary Star Trek race, the Borg. No identity outside the hive mind. I hope not, but sometimes it feels like resistance may be futile. 

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