In 1977, Star Wars premiered in the theaters, gas cost 65 cents a gallon, Elvis (reportedly) died, and my sixth grade class hosted a student teacher with the boundless enthusiasm of a true zealot. We liked him because of his unusual lesson plans. He showed up one day, for instance, wearing a wide brimmed cowboy hat and a gun belt with an antique Colt revolver (unloaded but quite real) and reenacted the gunfight that took place at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881.
On another afternoon, he described in enthusiastic detail the technological wonder ground the world would become in our lifetime. By the time we were thirty, he predicted, we would all be carrying phones that required no wires and would fit in a shirt pocket. Because that sounded very much like Captain Kirk’s communicator, I heartily approved of the idea. I didn’t actually believe him, though. I mean, come on, no wires?
The young teacher went on to lament that the rampant changes to society brought on by the technological revolution would traumatize a whole generation (mine) as it was currently befuddling his own. He referred us to a book called Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. (Still on my reading list, for about 33 years now. See a future post for more on procrastination.) The gist, as he would have it, was that we were going to have some pretty cool gadgets but be stressed out and disoriented by the whole rampant change thing. I didn’t believe him about that either. I was ready for change.
I was wrong on both counts.
About three years ago, well after most of the rest of the country, I got my first cell phone. It was tiny, fit in a shirt pocket, and flipped open much like Captain Kirk’s communicator. I only agreed to carry it so my partner would let me go hiking alone. The problem is, when I carry the phone, I’m not alone. It can ring at any time and that’s one of the things that appalls me most about modern living. People expect to talk to you any time they want. Sometimes, they even hang up on the voice mail and call right back on the theory, I suppose, that maybe annoying the snot out of you will make you want to talk to them.
It’s that attitude, that assumption that the social contract now has a clause stipulating that you must speak to people anytime they choose no matter what you may be doing, that makes me fantasize about culling the gene pool. Because I have all kinds of reasons for not answering the phone – maybe I went hiking to enjoy the peace and solitudeand am currently sneaking up on a Tiger Swallowtail with my camera. (Actually happened. Butterfly got away.) Or maybe I’m writing and the infernal phone breaks my train of thought and makes me forget what may have been the most brilliantly conceived sentence I ever captured in print. (It’s amazing how many times my brilliance has been thwarted by a ring tone.) Sometimes, I don’t even have a good reason. Sometimes, I just don’t want to talk to anyone.
But now, even I am brainwashed that I mustn’t go anywhere without my phone or something bad might happen. What if it’s my partner or one of the boys’ schools calling? (I always answer for them.) It might be an emergency. They might need me. So I’m always on guard, ready to dash off to a loved one’s aid. But more often it’s just my dentist office calling to remind me I have an appointment or my neighbor wanting to borrow something. So I ignore it. It keeps ringing and frightens the butterfly (or the brilliant sentence) away before I can turn off the ringer, and I resist the urge to smash it with a rock. I feel stressed and disoriented. And mad at Alvin Toffler for being right.
So I really wonder how we all managed to get along for so long without being connected to everybody else all the time. It makes you wonder about the reasons that so many of us are taking antidepressants these days. Actually, I have a whole bunch of ideas about what should make that list, but what do you think? Should cell phones be on it (if only to keep people from talking on them while they drive)? Was life less stressful in 1977? Are those silly Bluetooth gadgets that people wear in their ears a sign of Armageddon? Was the original Star Wars trilogy obviously superior to the new one? (Just threw that one in for fun. My kids don’t get it.)