In Praise of Technology

 On the 7th of January, as we were driving my son to the airport in Charlotte, NC, already worried that we were going to miss his plane for Tel Aviv (where he is doing a six-month fellowship), he announced that he had left a vital sheet of information on the dining table back home.  This paper contained the name, address, and phone number for the person who was going to meet him in the airport at the other end of his trip, so you can imagine my reaction!  But, while his mother (and father) descended into panic, my son calmly called his sister, still at home, and asked her to find the paper, take a picture of it, up close enough for him to read it, and then text it to his phone.  The whole process took about five minutes.  Our car never even slowed down!

Another anachronism:  the payphone line!
Another anachronism: the payphone line!

As we drove on, I couldn’t help but describe to my son how that same set of events would have played out fifty years earlier.  I could see two possible scenarios:  1) a rapid turn-around and drive back home to pick up the paper, missing the plane or 2) a frantic search for a rest area with a payphone, followed by a desperate crawl all over the floor of the car looking for a quarter, followed by someone standing miserably in the freezing cold with a pencil and paper held awkwardly in hand while trying to hear the words and numbers being dictated over the phone, with no writing surface except someone else’s back!  (Not to mention--unless you were lucky enough to have little Wash ‘n Dry wipes in your purse--the lingering fear that you might have contracted something from the pay phone.)

The computer my husband used to write his dissertation!
The computer my husband used to write his dissertation!

And this got me to thinking about some of the scenes from my life that would never happen nowadays:

1) the common experience of being lost in a city, late for some event, and listening to my parents fret over whether they should stop and ask directions (my mother’s preference) or keep driving around looking (my father’s choice

2) the experience of being out somewhere, away from home or the library, and trying to win an argument about some basic historical, literary, or scientific fact and not being able to prove your point without driving back home and pulling out the Columbia Encyclopedia

A manual typewriter
A manual typewriter

3) being completely out of touch with your family, except for letters in your mail box or the collect call home from the “hall phone” in your college dorm, which was usually right out in the middle of people, with no privacy at all

4) typing my senior thesis in graduate school on a manual type writer with four carbon copies and having to correct all four every time I made a mistake

5) running out of “White Out” and panicking

6) shuffling through paper cards in the card catalogue of your college to find a book (I miss this one!)

7) even a more recent change:  calling and embarrassing your child at a party to make sure he/she is alive (texting provides such a better cover for parenting!)

So,  I suppose there are some wonderful things about technology!

My father's first car phone!
My father's first car phone!

 

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