By Randy Gaddo
I try not to label myself a “technophobe” or “digital dinosaur,” but more and more these days I find myself wailing and gnashing my teeth as yet another cyber/electronic/digital episode occurs.
I turned a year older on February 21, which may be partially to blame for this reflective lament. On that day in 1953 (you do the math), the world was far simpler than it is now and on a farm in Wisconsin, it was about as simple as you could get. Sure, they had to call the county snow plow out to clear a path through the record-level snow to the hospital so the doctor could drive the 10 miles to deliver me in Marshfield, but even that was simple compared to today.
Like yesterday, for example, when I went to the drive-through window at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. Normally they are busy and it takes several minutes for someone to reluctantly drop what they’re doing to come to the window.
On this day though, the young, attractive pharmacy girl (all the girls look young to me now) was resting on her elbows at the window, absently gazing at some swarthy construction workers across the way. As I drove up she lazily shifted her gaze to me.
“This is unusual,” I said to her. “Normally you guys are hopping busy in there.”
“Computer’s down,” she said sleepily as she shrugged her shoulders.
“So, computer’s down which means nothing can be done?” I asked, thinking for the millionth time that we humans are way too tied to technology for our own good.
She shrugged her shoulders again as if to say, “Hey, what d’ya want from me?” I drove off, minus the prescription, wondering if we flesh-and-bone people are truly in charge or if, indeed, “I Robot” is actually pulling the strings.
This event, plus my new chronological challenge, got me thinking about growing up on that farm. I guess we had technology there that was pretty impressive for that period. There was the telephone, which probably represented the highest form of technology at our disposal. Of course, we were on a party line, a term which many young (everybody seems young now) readers will not recognize. This meant that whenever you picked up your phone to make or receive a call, anyone from the operator to 20 or so of your closest friends and neighbors could be listening in. Network security wasn’t really much of an issue back then.
We also had electricity and running water and carbon-burning vehicles but other than that, it was pretty hands-on, low-tech.
I remember we were the first ones in a 10-mile radius to get a TV; a black-and-white with a small, (by today’s standard) rectangular screen. We suddenly had friends we didn’t even know who would “stop by” to say hello on a Friday night when “Gunsmoke” was on, or Saturday when the “Lawrence Welk” show aired.
It wasn’t such a bad thing, I guess. We were the only family of pure Italian heritage amidst a hotbed of German and Polish stock who ate sauerkraut and drank beer … lots of beer. So I guess you could say TV opened up a multi-cultural experience for us.
I distinctly remember getting an automatic gutter cleaner, a bit of technology I especially appreciated.
For those city-slickers who may not be aware of dairy cows’ inherent disregard for personal hygiene, gutters are the receptacles for the by-product of grazing and on a daily basis they have to be cleaned out. As the youngest member of the family, I was generally the one to whom this task fell.
So it was with great joy that I learned that my dad was getting an automatic gutter cleaner which would allow us to put down our shovels. Now, with the push of a button we could watch as steel scrapers made the unsavory materials disappear. It was an application of a fairly simple technology that simplified my life.
Which, getting back to the point, is why I lament about current technology. It seems to me that the pendulum has swung from technology simplifying our life, to technology complicating our life.
Remember the “paperless society” theory of the 1980s? It never happened. Now we have just as much paper and have to keep up on electronic data as well. I’m not sure our minds were ever meant to deal with as much information as our society currently demands.
So I just shake my head ruefully as I watch people with phones clipped to their ears, texting as they drive, checking their calendar as they dash from one meeting to the next, laptop on their knee finishing the presentation they’ll give in 10 minutes if they don’t cause a multiple-car pileup because they think they can “multi-task” at 70 miles per hour.
This is why what we do in recreation is so important today (bet you thought I’d never tie this back into recreation). We provide the public facilities, the staff, the programs and the low-tech opportunity for people to exercise their bodies so they can slow down their minds. When they walk into their exercise class, ball game, quilting class, nature walk or any of the other myriad things we do, I hope they put away their laptop, turn off their cell phone, clear their schedule for a couple hours and just enjoy life. Can I get a witness on this? Can somebody give me an “Amen?”
Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, is Director of Leisure Services (parks, recreation, library) in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (770) 631-2542 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.