Technology and How it Has Affected What We Do Now
I remember when I was a child growing up on a farm in Northern California and getting up, packing the car and leaving way before sunup to arrive in the San Francisco Bay area in time for dinner at my grandparent’s house, after riding the ferry across the bay. We packed our meals, water and toilet paper in the car, because we always left on a Saturday when my father was off work and the gas stations, stores and restaurants were all closed for the weekend. A rest stop was on the side of the highway or behind a tree or bush.
Now, that same trip takes around two hours on the freeway and is served by enumerable convenience stores, restaurants, rest areas, 24 hour stores and a bridge where we rode the ferry.
It’s true that the speed limit of 60 to 70 mph is considerably faster than the 35 mph limit that was on the highway back then. But the freeways are wider, smoother, better maintained and more accurately engineered as well as the vehicles that drive on them have been refined and made more aerodynamic, fuel efficient and speedier. Although my 1953 Ford Fairlane flattop V-8 could go 120 mph when pushed. But that was not the usual.
I remember waiting our turn to use the phone due to the party line, listening for our particular ring to answer it. The phone wasn’t used much because it was still a novelty and was very expensive to use. We very sparingly called long distance and definitely used it like a telegram, counting out the words to say the most in the least amount of time, watching the clock and slamming the receiver down on the dot to limit the financial pain.
Now we can call anywhere on this planet and even off the planet for a price that’s included in our monthly bill on a phone that we can carry in our pocket with absolutely no curly cord that tended to knock everything over as you walked by. And not only are we free of the partyline, we can have our number unlisted and blocked.
Then a few years further down the line, I had a friend who was into computers back when they were a keyboard attached to a tv as the monitor and the screen was black with a coded language printed in white. Then a few years later I had another friend who knew the originators of Apple when they were operating their business out of their parent’s garage and employing their parents.
He also worked for a computer startup company in a time when no one thought, except for them, that they would amount to much of anything beyond a novelty or a platform for Atari. Who would have ever thought of a thing called Windows except for something to open during the summer heat or to sneak out of or into when Mom wasn’t looking?
When I was young, my great-uncle had a four-seater Cessna and when he came to see us he took us up in it and treated us to an unexpected view of our town and elevator drops. Ugh. I also got to tour a military plane, fly in a hot air balloon and a helicopter when they came to town. But I never in my wildest dreams thought that my travel would go beyond car or Greyhoundtrips.
Airplane flights were for the rich and were limited in their scope and speed of arrival. To think, I could buy a plane ticket right now, for a price and leave tomorrow and be to just about any destination on the planet right from my own home within a few hours all on the internet without the expense and hassle of a travel agent or the mandatory two week reservation. Now I can take up to 30 trips in a year, maybe a quarter of them by plane.
I also remember going to the local fairground, the entire community, and standing in line, waiting our turn to eat a flavored sugar cube to protect us from a disease, that until then, had been devastating and killing huge portions of our population, and receiving annual tine tests for TB because exposure to it was still quite common back then. My grandmother died of TB long before I was born. Most of my family died in their 70’s and 80’s, my great-grandfather was in his mid 90’s. But back then 50 was considered old and it wasn’t thought to be too young to die in one’s late 50’s or 60’s.
There are those who lament the loss of the old days, for the more innocent, slower times, for the more open spaces and simpler things in life, like knowing everything about your neighbor because you talked to them on the party-line and over the fence, sitting on the front porch or going for a Sunday drive or going for a picnic and a swim at the local swimming hole for free, driving without seat belts with the kids sitting on the floorboards in the backseat or in the back of the truck, leaving our doors unlocked, both car and house because they had no locks and we didn’t feel the need for them or when the biggest social event was either the potluck social at church on Sunday or a dance at the local Grange Hall on Friday night because Saturdays were for taking baths and preparing for the Sunday school lesson the next day.
If it weren’t for medical advances in the past sixty years we would be expecting this present, retiring generation to be dying in the next few years or at least living it in various stages of unhealthy discomfort and varying degrees of inconvenience. We’d also be missing a lot of people who wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those medical miracles at the beginning of their lives.
If it weren’t for the transportation breakthroughs we’d still be spending most our time traveling from one point to another, instead of getting there quickly and getting a lot more done. Back in my great-grandparent’s day, it would take two days to travel from a town near us, by horse and wagon, to down town Tampa, which now takes us about half an hour to accomplish.
Many have said about the computer and the social networking sites, that they isolate people from each other, ruin their relationships and cause people to become antisocial. Perhaps for some, that may be true. But for a lot of others it has the opposite affect. I know, I’m one of those people. It was networking through the internet that took me to Belgium and it’s what helps us to keep in touch with each other, connected, to catch up on what is going on with each other a few seconds after the email is sent, to help each other immediately instead of maybe in a month or two when it could be too late.
The email is the best invention for someone who can go through an entire set of stationary for just one letter due the multiple scratch-outs. A letter from me is a collector’s item. They’re that rare.
The networking sites, like Facebook, are wonderful for seeing behind the face that we see when we go to see someone for a job, maybe for 2 weeks in the entire year. It enables us to connect into their conversation with others and become a part of that conversation if we so choose to become more familiar with each other and the way we each think.
They give us the opportunity to be exposed to a great deal more helpful information about the world around us, about ourselves and those near us, to find others whom we’d thought we’d never see again and to reconnect. Both the networking sites and email open up new doors of opportunity for friendship and possibilities for new friends and more people to work with.
First email, then the networking sites have changed the way elections are done. The networking sites are the present day city square and email is the present day telegram.
But you can’t trap time in a bottle, forcing it to stand still. You can only do that with memories. My grandmother used to say that it was a waste of time grumbling about something you can’t change. That it was better to take advantage of the situation before you because the choices were as good in the present as they were in the past and many times better. She followed this advice with gusto.
Yes, there are things in the past I would dearly love to be here now, like more space between myself and my neighbors. There are trade offs. But I wouldn’t trade that for the life I have now, and that life is in a large part due to the advances in technology through the past 60 years.