They say “May you live in interesting times.” is an ancient Chinese curse. Indeed, ‘interesting’ can be horrible if there is war, political unrest, famine or real trouble in your life. To me, the curse sounds wise enough to be Chinese, but there is some doubt about where it actually originated. No matter. Some of us who are lucky don’t consider ‘interesting’ as ominous.
The other day, over lunch of Eggs Benedict, a friend who has reached the venerable age of 90, declared: “I’ve lived through the most interesting of times”. She shared with me all she had seen during her long lifetime — and since she has been truly lucky, she’s absolutely right. An elderly Los Angeles friend had said the very same to me over 25 years ago and I still remember….
He had recalled with pleasure and wonder his family’s first radio — all of them sitting around the table wearing earphones, with the contraption of open tubes and wires sitting in a place of honor in the centre of the table while they heard a symphony on radio for the very first time. It was a thrilling event he never forgot. He told me about the time their gas lights were changed to electric and when his mother no longer had to go out into the hallway of their apartment building to get water because new plumbing was installed right in each and every suite. He thought it all miraculous.
He also remembered the excitement of receiving wires, seeing his first automobile, the introduction of the telephone, then later television, microwave ovens, electric typewriters, and his first computer and printer. He did not dwell on the fact he had had to flee for his life from his beloved Vienna and then, serving in the U.S. Military, had witnessed the liberation of a Nazi death camp. He felt he had had a fascinating, interesting time of it.
My lady friend who last week talked about all the wonderful changes she has seen has been even more fortunate. She spent her whole life in Canada. And, yes, the advancements we’ve experienced are great in many ways, but sometimes I wonder…..
I am old enough to remember learning to type on a manual typewriter and how difficult it was to deal with my first electric one. Those keys typed letters at the slightest touch, and it was frustrating. If I found that intimidating, you can imagine how intimidated I can be by the complexity of modern computers.
I also remember when we called any business and a real, live person answered the phone. Now, a machine tells us our call is important and the wait will be 15 to 30 minutes. Or, we must push this button and that while the minutes tick by and we desperately concentrate on following the recorded directions correctly because just one blunder — and we’re out of the loop with no possible way back. And, since these electronic telephone systems aren’t always perfect, we can do all the right things and still end up with a dial tone. No wonder we grind our teeth!
Just where oh where have all the people gone? And if our calls ARE important to them, why don’t they employ enough people to handle them? Perhaps we’ve made a Faustian pact with the devil where modern technology is concerned. Even flesh-and-blood humans are beginning to behave more like humanoids than people. We bank at machines, our bills are paid automatically and too often we have little human contact in our everyday lives. I miss that, don’t you?
Will our grandchildren who nuke potatoes in a microwave ever know how great a real baked potato tastes? Is that important? Will future generations who grow up texting each other and using cell phones have any idea how to have a real conversation? Will the youngsters who are no longer taught how to write at school know how to sign their names? Does any of this matter to anyone besides me?
True, my own relationship with modern technology is tenuous. My computer and I have an agreement — I try not to goof too often and it tries not to scare me too much. I know how to turn on my microwave, but have no idea how to decrease the power, so everything gets heated on high. Still, we manage to live together in peace.
And, all those unnecessary clocks that are pre-installed on microwaves, CD players, and most other electronic gizmos in my home remain unset, so don’t bother looking at them for the correct time. I don’t know how to set them and nor do I care.
There is just so much I can handle.