~1971 Chevy Pickup engine~
In the span of fifty years, computers have evolved from big clunky, walk-in sized refrigerators to something that can be placed inside a pocket, with thousands times the memory stored in those original behemoths. Now, nearly every vehicle, toaster oven, and phone has an electronic component that can be fried with a power surge or can be programmed to work with a phone call. Every bit of information people used to remember, like phone numbers of family members, is available at the touch of a finger on a device.
Even little ones who are just learning the fundamentals of speech and toddling around on their two tiny feet can use their finger to “swipe” a screen on a computer or phone. Long before the first granddaughter could walk well, she could turn on the television and the gaming system–way, way above the capabilities of her grandmother to undo the steps of that less than two year old.
This is why so many, not quite two-year-old children can order pizza, buy something on Amazon, and call Zimbabwe, with just a few minutes of unsupervised access to a parent’s or grandparent’s phone.
Cell phones are like yawns. If someone is walking along, whistling a happy tune, and they see another person checking a cell phone for email, texts, pictures, apps, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, or the latest cute and illiterate cat video, the urge to “check” their phone is compelling and urgent.
It’s not unusual to see people facing one another in a booth or table in a restaurant either texting one another across the table, or checking their phone, and never conversing throughout the entire meal. In fact, they could be served cardboard with gravy and they probably wouldn’t taste the difference.
Calculators on “smart” phones can compute the tip for a restaurant meal without disturbing a single brain cell. So, as technology gets smarter, the technology-dependent are becoming less smart, or so it seems.
Technology rules every aspect of our lives. There was a time when a car could be repaired under the shade of the old oak tree. This is no longer true with all of the electronic and electrical components that fill that once simple engine compartment. In days past, it was easy to identify the fuel pump, the carburetor, spark plugs, and the engine block; but no more. Since everything is scrunched up to include electronic whosits and electric whatsits for a car, an expensive computer is needed by mechanics to run diagnostics to determine what part needs to be replaced, based on the error codes.
Increasingly, one piece of technology or the other is consulted for answers to trivia, spelling, phone numbers, addresses, as well as setting both birthday and anniversary date reminders. It used to be, in the not so distant past, that one would look up a word in the dictionary and find a couple of other words that might work better in providing clarity to a speech, letter, or essay. The World Almanac was an especially gratifying source for all types of trivia, like learning the capital of Tanzania, or that Istanbul used to be known as Constantinople, as well as learning what team played against the Jets in the first Super Bowl.
Since all knowledge, whether a truth or a fallacy, is instantaneously available, one no longer has to remember anything because all they have to do is “Google” it and find the answer without disturbing a single memory cell. Who needs to remember anything, if it is available on “Google?” It makes one wonder if this amnesia, forgetfulness, or absent mindedness is caused by the increased amount of information required to function in the 21st century; or due to the lack of exercise in the memory and recall function centers of the brains.
There was a time when everyone’s phone number was easily accessed from the memory Roledex, without mixing up any of the digits. Now, with all the passwords and user names everyone has to remember for every shopping, banking, or social media website, those first computers with all their girth would be hard pressed to remember a tenth of the information without some sort of backup system.
Contrary to the advice of the Information Technology (IT) experts, most of us have the same three or four passwords and user names for every “secure” website accessed. Some might say that is an open invitation to hackers to steal personal and important information from phones, laptops, tablets, and desktop computers, but it is infinitely easier than keeping a fifty page book of passwords and user names.
Technology has become the master, rather than a helpful, time-saving convenience. A catastrophe, on the scale of the danger facing an unarmed caveman encountering a saber-toothed tiger, awaits anyone who forgot to charge the phone, the tablet, or any other device on which they depend.
Nearly everything in every day life is electronic. However, the constant use of technology is taking those skills and knowledge away from people that proved helpful for survival during the past ten-thousand or so years. If there were a micro-burst that rendered every device inoperable, one would ponder just how many people would freeze to death because they didn’t know how to build and light a fire.
Personally, this writer used to know the phone numbers, addresses, and zip codes for close family members, and could recall them quite easily, Now, the “smart” phone has all of that information plus email addresses, work phone numbers, along with other various and sundry information. What is really disturbing is the fact that a trained chimp could access everything with a swipe of a finger and a push of a button.
Additionally, an extraordinary amount of time is spent waiting on computers and other devices to “boot up,” “power down,” “update,” “search, ” and myriad other functions, not to mention the frustration experienced when the bars are low, and one is traveling in a “dead zone,” which is also known as “cell hell.” At the advent of the computer age, predictions were made the the work week would be shortened to thirty hours, that less paper would be needed, and that people would be more productive.
Here we are in the middle of the technology boom, and we have crazy sales two minutes after ingesting our Thanksgiving dinner for the next new, smarter, smaller, or larger (depending on the device) “tech toy” for Christmas. The Radio Flyer wagon, Revlon dolls, and Schwinn bicycles pale in comparison to a tablet that can connect with friends and family in Tibet.
There was a time when the writer’s family would go deep into the Colorado mountains in wilderness areas to camp for a week, or would backpack into the nether reaches of a canyon, without packing a phone or other communication device. To some teenagers and twenty-year-olds, this was just reckless and irresponsible behavior, akin to the dangers Lewis and Clark faced as they traversed the continent for President Thomas Jefferson.
In some ways, we know more than during those days in the past, when people sat at a dinner table and discussed ideas and conversed about their day; but how much better is it to instantly know about horrible and terrifying events half way around the globe in “real time?” And, this anachronism, this throwback to the days of twenty-five cent gas and the Beach Boys, can really survive the day, the week, and the month without knowing the latest antics of the Kardashians.
Jonathan Sacks summed it up, when he wrote:
“Technology gives us power, but it does not and cannot tell us how to use that power. Thanks to technology, we can instantly communicate across the world, but it still doesn’t help us know what to say.”