As I get older, it seems like time moves faster. Or things happen faster now. Exponentially faster it seems.
Besides being a reporter for a newspaper, I am also a freelance photographer. Last weekend I was shooting a wedding in an historic downtown hotel. The bride and groom were getting ready on different floors, so I ended up in the elevator a lot that day. It happened to be the same general time that Housekeeping was working, so I ended up sharing the very historic, very tiny elevators with maids and their large carts or bins of laundry. I kept ending up with the same few girls, so after the 5th or 6th time of us rearranging ourselves to make everyone fit, I decided to break the cardinal rule of silence in elevators and I laughed and commented on how it reminded me of the old game where you had to move the little squares around to get them in the right order. One of them laughed and said, “Oh you mean Tetris?” I smiled and nodded and acted like I meant Tetris. But I didn’t. I was referring to an even older game, one that was not electronic but plastic, and one that these girls were apparently too young to even know about.
That got me thinking about progress and change and new things and old ways. It reminded me of when my daughter was about 7 or 8 years old (2009-ish) and my mom and I were trying to explain to her how telephones used to not have screens and how we used them only for talking to people and that they used to be attached to a wall in the house with a cord. She laughed and laughed at our unbelievable tale of yore. A few years later when I decided to get a landline (that I never used) I found an old rotary phone and brought it home. I asked her to use it to call her grandma and she picked up the receiver and looked at it and looked at me and asked where the “Send” button was. She had no clue how to operate it. This child, who took over the household duty of connecting devices and game consoles to the internet because I couldn’t figure it out, had no idea how to use a regular, albeit “old school,” telephone. She was incredulous at the thought of not knowing who was calling and was not impressed when I explained Caller ID boxes to her. She rolled her eyes when she found out you had to hook up a whole separate machine to get messages from people.
I realized how much has changed in the world in the short time she has been alive. I started thinking of all the changes I have seen in my lifetime, and what my parents and grandparents saw. My dad was born in 1934 and lived in a one-room house that had no electricity or indoor plumbing for most of his childhood. He saw SO much change in his lifetime! He died in 1997, just as the internet was exploding, and I often wish he was still alive today so I could sit and talk to him and ask him what he thinks of all this crazy shit we have done.
I am part of the last generation to come-of-age without the internet. The last of the free-range kids. I am so thankful for the childhood I had, and at the same time I am sad that my daughter will never know anything like that. The world she is growing up in is so vastly different than the one I grew up in.
Most people reading this blog are reading it on their cell phones. The new iPhone is coming out soon and I heard it will cost around $1,000. And people will line up to buy one, there will probably even be an inventory shortage at first. We eat that shit up. The newest, the best. We must have it. But it wasn’t that long ago that NOBODY had a cell phone. Well, maybe not nobody, people like the President and the military and important lawyers and brain surgeons, and rich people like actors or oil tycoons, probably all had cell phones before the general public even knew what a cell phone was. My dad was a Special Agent for the DEA and I remember when he got his first cell phone; I was probably around 11 or 12 years old, and it was a lot like a regular phone but it was in a bag and had a cord that plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter. (Most cars today don’t even have cigarette lighters anymore – or ashtrays. I remember when airplanes had ashtrays!) Now, elementary school kids walk out of the building after school and whip out their iPhones. When my daughter was in 4th grade she asked me when she was going to get an iPhone. I laughed and showed her my flip-phone and said, “Certainly not before I get one!” (That was 7 years ago – I just got my first (used) iPhone 5 about 2 years ago).
It kind of amazes me when I really look back at the technology changes just in my lifetime. I remember TV’s before there were remote controls, big, huge TV’s in wood consoles that weighed about 500 pounds; there were 2 knobs and tons of numbers on them, but usually only 3 or 4 channels actually worked. I remember the first home computer my dad got when I was in middle or early high school; it had a black screen with green letters – it looked like a screen that you shouldn’t even see today. Like, if you saw a screen like this on your computer today you would think it was crashing. The graphics for the first video games are hilarious to my daughter today, but I remember thinking they were so cool when they came out. I remember when you had to make sure nobody was on the phone before you could get online, and then the internet was basically just AOL chat rooms. It’s strange, but I can’t even really remember when the internet became the internet we know today. I mean, I know when it happened because of documentation etc., but I don’t actually remember it happening. I remember when cell phones were still pretty much just phones, and now all you can get are smartphones which are basically tiny computers that nobody even uses to actually speak to other people with anymore.
The evolution of technology scares me the most. It’s not that I think technology is bad or that I am against progress. I just think that we are not thinking through all the repercussions of our progress. A smart guy once said something about there being an equal and opposite reaction to every action. It’s like we are kids who live on top of a big hill, and we are building a boxcar with all the bells and whistles, a fine machine really. But we aren’t thinking about what will happen when we start driving that thing down the steep hill; will we be able to control it? Will people get hurt? We started down the hill about 15 years ago when technology, and especially the internet, boomed. Right now we are just cruising down the street squealing with delight, with no thoughts of the future or the inevitable crash coming. I would say if, but I’m too much of a realist (pessimist?) so I will say when – when shit of one form or another finally does hit the fan, it won’t be pretty. If my daughter’s reaction to being grounded from the internet for a few days is any indication, people are going to lose their ever-loving minds when the grid goes down and we are without the technology we have come to depend on so greatly. I was listening to NPR last week and they were talking to a fire chief in California and asking about a particular neighborhood that was hit badly and suffered casualties. He said that many people were not evacuating immediately, they were waiting to get some kind of alert or directions from their smart phones, which he said there just isn’t a system in place to do such a thing. He said that back before everybody had cell phones, when we all had landlines still, there were emergency alert systems in place to warn people.
With all this technology you would think that we would all be superb humans. We aren’t weighed down with the time-sucking tasks of yesteryear and are left with so much more time on our hands. We probably all fill that time with activities that make this world a better place. Right? Instead of having to get on your bike or in your car and drive to the library, go in and look up some possible information sources in the card catalog, then take your list to the bookshelves and find the actual books, then if they weren’t already checked out by someone else you could find a table and sit down and read or take them home and read to find what you wanted to know – instead of dong all that, now all we have to do is tap our finger on our phone and all of the information in the entire world is available to us. In nano-seconds we can know and learn almost anything. So we must all be geniuses right? And all of this social media must mean we are a more social species now; more integrated and unified as people, kinder and more connected, right? I’m being sarcastic, of course. I actually think that in perhaps, 100 years, kids will learn about the dark times of the “Technology Age” and how unenlightened humans used the powers of technology for evil rather than good and how it was the downfall of modern society. But I could be wrong.