Still in the Driver’s Seat
Is it an increase in personal wealth? Is it a reduction in the amount of energy and time it takes to complete a task? Is it redefined from one generation to the next, or is it deeper than that?
Recently, my head has been spinning due to the increased pace of emerging technology and I have been wondering if we are really better off as a result of it. Some view these changes as progress. I am not sure.
“Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” (Thomas Edison)
Here is my dilemma. I am not always discontented! I admit that I am old-fashioned, that I love nostalgia, and that sometimes I drag my feet when it comes to change.
So, in an effort to understand my quandary, I have analyzed a few modern conveniences that have come along recently. I have weighed the pros and the cons of each and I have tried to decide if they have improved my life.
The Remote Control. Yes, I am glad that I don’t have to get up and physically change the channel and adjust the volume on the set like the old days. But, this device presents an unsavory opportunity for my husband. Tom, who like most males that I know, has the remote firmly clutched in the palm of his hand nightly in order to watch 5 shows simultaneously. Usually there is only one program that I really care to see and it is annoying to try to follow the dialogue while it flies by in the rotation. I can only catch a moment of the action before the next one appears. I bet if he had to actually get up to switch the channel, that there would be less of an evening selection and I might be able to enjoy a whole program.
The Cell Phone. I remember driving home alone from college in a snow storm and feeling quite scared. It sure would have been nice to hear a friendly voice, on a hands-free device of course, and to have the opportunity to let my parents know that I was safely on my way. The only option available at the time was an elusive rest stop and a dime for the pay phone. (Are there even any pay phone booths anymore?)
So, I finally did upgrade to a “smart phone” but I admit that I forget to, number one, turn it on when I am carrying it, and number two, remember to bring it with me at all times in anticipation of a call. But, since I haven’t memorized the new number, I haven’t been able to give it out to too many people. Therefore my cell phone rarely rings, and when it does, I am still not familiar with the calypso ring tone and I get startled by the music coming out of my purse. As you can see, I am still attached to my land line. But I am glad that it is not attached to the wall any more.
The E-Z Pass. I am pretty much on board with this gizmo. It sure is nice to sail through the toll booths on the way to the beach and not dig into my purse for money. Tom, on the other hand, is flexing his own resistance to change and does not have this device in his car because he does not want to “miss out on an opportunity to have a personal conversation with a human toll collector.” This summer as my son and I flew past him on the Garden State Parkway with the grandkids while he was waiting in a line of cars 40 deep, we wondered what that “personal conversation” sounded like when he finally got to that friendly toll collector!
The Digital Camera. True, I like to instantly see the results of my amateur photography and have the opportunity for a second take if someone’s eyes are closed or “rabbit ears” pop up behind an unsuspecting head. But I find that most young people rarely printed out their pictures and photo albums are going the way of 35mm film. Who is going to be looking at all of these pictures in cyberspace and will they be able to remember the names and dates of all of them? I try to continue to print out pictures and make photo books at CVS and print the dates on the back just like my grandfather did. I like to hold on to my pictures and examine the joyful faces whenever I desire.
The Microwave Oven. Granted, who doesn’t love a warm bag of popcorn prepared in 3 minutes and 45 seconds? And I am glad when I can defrost the pork chops quickly when I discover that I have forgotten to take them out of the freezer for dinner. However, there are too many high fat, high sodium processed foods that are landing on our dinner tables at night. When I do cook, and now as empty nesters it has lost its appeal, I usually use the microwave to zap fresh vegetables or warm-up a home cooked entrée. I still take the time to make my homemade strawberry jam in May and churn my Foley food mill in the fall to make my applesauce. They are made with love, not just electricity.
“All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem” (Martin Luther King Jr.)
Luckily I live in Lancaster County Pennsylvania. It is a wonderful blend of the old and the new. I can wander slowly through multiple Farmer’s Markets picking out fresh produce and admire local handicrafts whenever I want. But at the same time, I can enjoy the convenience of wireless internet access where I teach and in other public places and I can electronically make bank transfers and other transactions. I just have to remember to keep my own personal balance and level of comfort. If I start to feel anxious by the lure of technology pulling me too much to the one side, I simply switch on a black and white vintage television show on cable and allow myself to mentally relapse into a 1950’s pace with sheriff Taylor in Mayberry.
I measure my progress by the feeling of satisfaction of having figured out how to navigate my own way in our complicated world. It has to make sense to me, and it has to make me happy, not stressed out. Sure, I make adjustments along the way, but I keep in mind that there will always be a “better mouse trap”. I have learned to know when to press the accelerator and when to just coast for a while. Balance, we all need to find it and we need to stay true to ourselves.
“There is no progress whatever. Everything is just the same as it was thousands and tens of thousands of years ago. The outward form changes. The essence does not change.” (Robert Lois Stevenson)
What does your progress meter read? Are you staying in the driver’s seat?