Technology

No, I Don’t Want to Install Now!

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.

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A rotary dial with a finger wheel was introduced in 1904 when the instrument itself was known as a candlestick phone. There were many design changes of the phone before touch tone dialing was introduced in 1963.

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. 😞

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8 thoughts on “No, I Don’t Want to Install Now!

  1. Please send “No I Don’t Want to Install Now” to the NY Times OPED submissions. I suspect I’m not the only one who heartily agrees with this essay. It deserves a wider audience! Amen!

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    1. Thanks so much! I think you’re right. A lot of us feel something important slipping away, even as we place our grocery order with Amazon. We need to come up with a way to maintain our humanity in the face of impersonal technology that demands so much of our time and attention.

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  2. Hi Mary: I really enjoyed your article, “No, I don’t want to install now.” As I get older I’m beginning to feel nostalgic about the way things used to be. I still have a desk phone at home and love to use it, just to remember how it was to hold a receiver and dial the numbers. Even the ringing of a desk phone is more welcoming than the cacophony of sounds that emit from the disturbing “ring tones” from our modern cell phones. Funny how they’re called “cell” phone. It seems many people today are entrapped or imprisoned by their phones. Thank goodness I’m not one of them! Thanks again for a great article. Fondly, Sam 8/6/18

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  3. I saw a dozen beautiful wooden card catalogues on free cycle. Some university library was trying to get rid of them. I realized there is absolutely no need for these wonderful pieces of furniture any longer. I tried to think of something we could use them for. I came up with nothing. I do appreciate all the new gadgets and technologies but sometimes I “long for the old view.”

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  4. This blog really hit home with me at my age (80 this mo.) and my visits with my grandmother when I was young. Although refrigerators were available, she still had an Ice Box and I happened to be visiting when a large block of ice was delivered and inserted for keeping food cold. She still cooked on a cast iron stove. She showed me how to operate her foot pedaled Singer sewing machine. I don’t recall seeing a telephone, but for sure it would have been an early version of a rotary dial phone.

    My father, of course, saw to it that these were replaced the technologically modern versions available. But, when I think of the technology my grandchildren are growing up with in this day and time it is mind-boggling!! A Telephone?? – What’s that??!!

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    1. Strange—I can’t remember a refrigerator or an icebox. I have a pretty good mental picture of the kitchen, but no refrigerator.There must have been an icebox on that back porch. There was one other thing in the kitchen I didn’t mention: A Hoosier cabinet. No wall cupboards.

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