Technology and me
Get off the phone and drive. The red light drops to green yet the driver ahead of me hasn’t budged. Why? Her fast moving fingers are shooting off a text message, perhaps to her new boyfriend. I honk and she flips me the finger, ignoring the green turn signal. Texting or talking behind the wheel is just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. It’s a distraction, a major distraction. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2012, around 3,300 people died because of distracted drivers. At least 420,000 were injured for the same reason. Distractions include cell phone use, texting as well as applying make-up, eating cereal or thumbing through a magazine. Yes, I’ve seen people read while driving. I change lanes as quickly as possible to get away from the readers. I trust you would too.
If my cell phone rings while I’m driving, I ignore it. I can’t hear it anyway. A ringing cell phone isn’t so important that I’ll risk my life or someone else’s to answer it. I’m not the department of public safety nor the governor’s office. The call can wait. If it can’t then too bad. Loud rock music drowns out the sound. I live in an apartment building where a turned up radio would disturb my neighbors. So when I drive I crank up the volume. Listening to the Beatles, Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan relaxes me. It protects my sanity from all the wackos on the road who speed, cut me off and dangerously change lanes. Driving itself can be a hazard.
A distracted driver ran me over in 1994 leaving me with lifelong injuries that prevent me from holding a job. I scrape by on Social Security disability. It’s a hardscrabble life. At times I’ve dug through the trash for aluminum cans to redeem for cash. I buy day old bagels. I water down shampoo and dish soap so they last longer. Nearly all my clothes are from thrift shops. I’d rather be employed and earn my own living. Is a cell phone call worth dooming someone to a life like mine? No, it’s not. I’ve made tremendous strides since leaving the rehab center but I have constant headaches. By evening, I often forgot what I did that morning. I take seizure medication because I became epileptic after head trauma. The pills make me dopy as well as sleepy so I only take them at night. Dare I complain? Hardly. There are people injured much worse than me. At least I live independently albeit in the poor house.
Technology is both a blessing and a curse. Facebook for example nurtures friendships far and wide. People from around the world are united for common causes. Unwanted animals find new homes. Money is raised for charitable causes. Cell phones enable a lost hiker to summon desperately needed help. Emails are an easy way to stay in touch with long distance friends and relatives. Technological improvements improve health care.
But there’s a dark side too. For one, children are obese because of technology. Outdoor play isn’t popular now. Instead, children huddle indoors hooked on television or busy with computer and/or video games. They miss out on sunshine and fresh air. I grew up in a densely populated working class New York City neighborhood. Nearly every family including mine lived in small cramped apartments in old crummy brick buildings. What the buildings lacked in style they made up for in character. Since indoor play area was restricted, I was outdoors all the time, even in the frigid winters. Our neighborhood gang played baseball, handball, touch football, and all kinds of sports. We rode bikes, climbed walls separating the courtyards and chased after each other up and down the block. Imagine the fun we had flipping baseball cards or riding our sleds down a hill during a snowstorm. Now and then we piled into someone’s apartment to play board games like Parcheese, Life, or Monopoly. The interaction among each other was terrific. Today’s youth walk around zombie-like holding cell phones or i Pads. I honestly don’t even know what an X box does nor do I care. Today’s youth interact with technology the way I interacted with boys and girls who laughed, cried, and shared each other’s joys as well as sorrows. Charlie, one of our playmates, lost his mother. It was as if we all lost our mom. Her death touched each one of us because Georgia was a special lady, often inviting Charlie’s friends to their apartment for cookies and milk. A child today mourns the loss of a cell phone or a computer game. He is angry if his poverty stricken parents cannot afford the latest Apple products. Children sit next to one another and text. They don’t talk or learn interpersonal skills. From my years of neighborhood sports, I learned the art of negotiation or in other words, how to get along for the good of the team. The “me” generation didn’t exist then. The world revolved around us and as the late President John F. Kennedy said, what can you do for your country?
Education today is often computerized. Is to save time and money? Be an advancement? Improve skills? What a gift to escape robot learning and walk to school each day, even during thunderstorms, punishing cold, or blistering heat. I enjoyed the camaraderie and horsing around with my friends and classmates on our way. At break time, the schoolyard was ours to run around, scream, yell or play ball. Teachers barked out orders to get along or get in line when the bell rang, a signal break time was over. Computerized learning doesn’t offer a hearty game of tag or the chance to shoot a few hoops with friends and classmates at lunch hour. Classroom discussion about the latest political issue broadened my outlook. It taught me about critical thinking especially as I listened to other points of view. Teachers encouraged us to read a daily newspaper. On line learning deprives students of the back and forth array of opinions with the professor serving as moderator. Sadly, computer learning seems like it’s the future. My two college degrees were earned the old fashioned way through hard work, reading, writing, discussion and actually looking up research in the library. I interviewed real people. Some assignments were completed in groups. Other times we reported a semester’s worth of work to the class. I didn’t “Google” anything.
Technology will one day take away the printed word. Bookstores will shutter as will newsstands. I hope by then I am dead and gone. I cannot imagine a world where there is no newspaper the morning to go with my cup of coffee. Browsing through a bookstore is one of my favorite activities. The public library is a treasure. If you object to paying taxes for the library, we cannot possibly be friends. I’ve loved the library since I was a child, devouring books about anything and everything. I’m reading a library book now.
Technology has its place. It serves an extremely useful function in society. I appreciate its power to improve our lives but I also fear its massive power to destroy as well. There’s nothing more satisfying that sitting down with a friend and having a heart to heart discussion over a home-cooked meal. No computer will ever replace the human touch, ever.