Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Complicating Life

By Alan Caruba

There was a time when getting the oil changed, along with the filters, and checking the air pressure in the tires of one’s car could be done easily in less than an hour. That was before cars came equipped with more computer power than the original Lander on the Moon.

Thus this otherwise ordinary task turned into a second hour of “interface” with a computer today because some dashboard light was not cooperating. My mechanical skills are largely limited to opening a can of corn for dinner and the mechanic at the service station was serious as a heart attack about solving the problem, but I just wanted to go home.

When I did get home, I had a message from my Internet domain provider and it took a call to customer service to access my account because, for reasons known only to them, they would change my password, but not tell me what my ID name was.

Intellectually, I know that life has improved greatly over the days when the milk was delivered in a wagon drawn by a very large horse to the front of our home. It was World War II and gas was in short supply, but there was something about how that horse knew where the stops along the way were that delighted me as a very young child.

I read a commentary in my local daily about how a large percentage of people in my generation and older don’t know how to use a computer and do not connect to the Internet. That’s a shame because I suspect most newspapers will end up as websites and little more. That’s the route the Christian Science Monitor has taken.

Every time I contemplate how “complicated” life has become from a purely technical point of view, I am also reminded of my Mother telling me how excited she and her sisters were to listen to a radio for the first time in the 1920s. It was just a device in a cigar box with earphones attached, but they could hear a voice coming out of that box and it was extraordinary at the time.

I remember hot summers without the benefit of air conditioning because it hadn’t been invented to the point where you could plug one into the window and turn it on to cool the room. I can remember when there was no such thing as television.

As a writer, I went from a manual typewriter, to an electric one, to one that had a bit of memory, to a computer. I could not write anything these days without the computer.

Technology is a wonderful thing for the way it has enhanced our lives in so many ways, but it often serves to complicate it because we now need an army of people who know how it works when it fails to work. It tends to be less and less forgiving.

When people say, “Life was simpler then”, it was true. A lot of things about life in the era before and after World War II were simpler because there were understood rules of conduct and behavior. They were also more demanding because many tasks were still done by hand. A burst of innovation and productivity after WWII provided clothes washers and dryers, television sets in every home, air conditioners, and every manner of labor-saving device.

The best part, though, was that families really did sit down together at dinner time and mother made the meal from original ingredients. Conversation existed as opposed to text messaging. Life may be “easier” in many ways today, but it is a lot more complicated in others. The rules seem to be missing and the interface with the dashboard computer is not working as it should.


Longstreet said...

Maybe it's my age... but I understood every word and related to every word.

Was that a '49 or '50 Ford?

Best regards!


Alan Caruba said...

That was a 49' Ford.

Actually, my Mom only bought and drove Chevys. She held jobs and drove cars long before such things were usual for women. Her father, a tough old Russian emigre had four daughters and one son, and taught them all to be self-sufficient.

I have very fond memories of those early times.