Saturday, 30 August 2014

Evolution of a dummy

See that photo of me illustrating this blog? That’s me before I got smart. As the sayings go: “We get too soon old and too late smart” and its corollary, “Better late than never,” I have seen the light, and I am dumb no more.  I have stepped into the world of smart – the world of smart phones, that is.

Yes, now I have joined the hordes of people who walk down crowded sidewalks with their eyes focused on their hands, rudely bumping into people because the message they’re getting from their friend who’s waiting for them in the coffee shop (“I C U!”) is more important than anything else in the universe. I could become one of those nasty folks who conduct business discussions on a park bench right next to you (“Well sir, we’ll match Joe’s price on that flooring, no problem.”) Worse, the RS and I could become one of those sad couples who sit across from each other in a lovely restaurant, texting each other about the menu offerings or checking our e-mail while we’re waiting for the prime rib.

Can you tell that I am not wholly convinced about how smart it was to get ourselves one of these phones? Culture watchers tell us that in every crowd there are early adopters (EAs) of technology – the ones who are first with all the newest doodads and gimcracks. I, on the other hand, am a late adopter (LA). Very late (VLA). I remember when the RS had received a windfall around Christmas time back in 1984, and he decided we needed a computer. I decided we did not. I had a typewriter to write with, and lots of board games to play with, so why did we need a computer? He bought the computer. I was mad. I bought a microwave in retaliation. Oh, let’s not get into that. He was right. I was right. (Actually, the Quasar microwave lasted way longer than the Commodore 64, but that’s another story.)

So with my mixed feelings about this technology, why do it? We already have cell phones. True, they don’t dance and sing, allow for texting, take pictures, or even flip open. They are what one patronizing salesman called  “mercy phones” – we bought them for distressing situations, such as calling home from the grocery store to find out if we need mushrooms (the RS) or (me) calling home to say I’ll be late – again, sighs the RS.

But we know that the times, they are a-changing. I remember the first phone our family had: a box on the wall with crank, which you turned when you wanted to make a call; you spoke into the receiver on the box, and held the ear piece to your ear. You told the operator who you wanted to talk to. And no, I am not 100 years old. We shared the phone with about 4 other families on our party line, who often knew more about us than we did, because they listened in on every conversation, and sometimes interrupted to give advice. Phones back then were often lifelines in isolated situations. They let people know they could reach out to others.

When we moved from the farm to an apartment in town, we had no phone for a few years, but in special situations we were allowed to use one that belonged to kindly old folks downstairs. Then, in 1956, we moved into our own home, and shortly thereafter we got our own phone, too. I can still remember the excitement of memorizing my phone number (Lennox 7-7778). The phone was a big deal because now we could call our family in Holland, but only for 3 minutes at a time, since it was so expensive. The date and time of the impending call was set up ahead of time through letters, and my two aunties and families came to share in the chat, which hardly gave anyone any time at all to say anything more than hello, but hey! For an hour afterwards my two aunts and mom would sit around deconstructing the conversation: – Moeke sounds tired. Vader says the weather is rainy. Didn’t the twins sound grown up? It was really about hearing their voices, and about staying in touch. Gathering around the phone was an opportunity to strengthen family and community bonds, and rightly used, it still is.

The precipitating cause of our buying smart phones is an upcoming trip to the southern states which will allow us to text or call our family more often. The RS and I are having fun: which ring tone will I install so I’ll know it’s the RS calling – how about Jim Croce’s tune  “I just called to say I love you”? Which photo of my dear man will I put into the address book –  a cartoon of Goofy? I ditched that idea quickly when he caught me in the buff scrubbing the toilet and ran for his cell phone/camera. We called a truce. Don't press, tap. Don't tap when the phone rings -- swipe. Sigh. I have so much to learn. But really, whether it’s letters, e-mail, facebook, Twitter, dumb phones or smart phones and even blogging, it’s all about keeping in touch with each other. It’s a brave new world out there, but to live is to learn. So I will raise a toast to life and move on.

Why not pick up the phone – smart or dumb, who cares? – talk to someone, and say, “I just called to say I love you”?
As usual, I turned to my fabric to help me make peace with my new phone, and this is the result. I dipped into my collection of buttons and fibres to connect the dots – buttons and fibres are used to hold things together, and as this art piece illustrates, when we all reach out to each other we create wonderful webs of relationships. We are not alone!    

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