I don’t want to install this evening, I don’t want to be reminded tomorrow. I want you to quit bothering me with these incessant upgrades.
Time was when technological innovation moved slowly, incrementally improving our lives at a slow but steady pace.
It took 44 years to go from a rotary telephone dial to touch tone dialing. We drove our cars, happily shifting gears for 32 years, from the invention of the Model T until 1940 when Oldsmobile gave us hydramatic or automatic shift. Black and white television satisfied us for about six years before we were introduced to the wonders of color.
My grandparents’ home in the forties was an example of a small-town house inching toward modernity.
The house had been equipped with the two essentials for modern living: electricity and indoor plumbing. Gradually an electric stove, electric iron, an electric wringer washer, and a console radio had made their appearance.
But reluctant, I suppose, to suddenly erase what they were accustomed to and to ease the transition psychologically, my grandparents kept the chamber pots, the outhouse, the woodshed, the kerosene lamps, the washboard, and the woodstove hanging around, the latter banished to the enclosed back porch.
The house had not yet made it all the way to the modern age.
In the kitchen a pump still attached to the kitchen sink brought water from the cistern outside, although the faucets brought city water into the house. Two Mamas still had to pump a foot treadle to power her sewing machine. After my grandfather’s health failed, she had to make frequent trips to the cellar to feed the furnace shovels full of coal. And she had to crank the phone on the wall to alert the operator to put her through
The technological advances that took place during her lifetime never gave her a moment’s grief. She was not a bit sorry she didn’t have to make a trip to the outhouse or scrub the sheets by hand or heat her flat irons on the wood stove. And none of the new technology called for learning anything complicated.
But progress is different now. Innovations are hurtling towards us at warp speed.
We barely have time to get accustomed to one operating system before another takes its place. And even the latest household appliances seem to require a technical competence that sometimes taxes us.
Often the advances impact our humanity in a negative way.
As we bank online, shop online, do our research at home, we are relieved of the countless face-to-face opportunities to elicit cooperation, ask for help, be courteous, grateful, or apologize to a fellow human being.
Language sets us apart from the beasts and yet we are not communicating more effectively through language but minimizing linguistic communication or sometimes eliminating it altogether, letting emojis stand in for our thoughts and feelings.
The first technological advance I recall anyone resisting was the answering machine. Many people felt that requiring them to talk to a machine was an insult, and they simply wouldn’t do it.
Now we not only talk to machines but the machines reply! And do our bidding! Little children have to be taught that Alexa is different from a person, and you can’t boss your friends and family around as if they were machines.
With iPhone and iPad at the ready, we don’t allow ourselves or our children to be bored. And that’s a pity, for that’s when we do some of our best thinking.
Neil Postman sounded the alarm 33 years ago in his book Âmusing Ourselves to Death. And he was only worried about television! He agreed with Aldous Huxley who had predicted that “people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”
We may have arrived at that point. 😞