Surrounded by too much technology
I’m starting to think that the more dependent on technology we become, the harder things are for us. The world’s geniuses have come up with so many quick fixes and appliances geared toward convenience that soon, there will probably be a gadget that will get out of bed for us.
That’s all well and good, until the technology breaks down. That’s when a back-to-basics movement looks like the ticket after all.
A few weeks ago, I was assigned a story on the superweed Palmer Amaranth and other herbicide resistant weeds. Mark Carlton, field agronomist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, said the only way to get rid of these weeds is to physically remove them with a hoe. It occurred to me then that there is probably a lot that could be said for the family farm of yesteryear. It’s easier to hoe a 100 acres than 100,000.
Indeed, the more things change, the more I realize they weren’t so bad to begin with.
For example, two weeks ago, our microwave crapped out, bringing eating to a complete halt at our house. I’m not proud to admit that we nuke about 80 percent of what we ingest. When I do cook, I cook a large quantity so we have leftovers.
I’d just made a big pot roast, two batches of cheesy potatoes and several side dishes. But as it turned out, nobody could figure out how to warm the cheesy potatoes with the microwave out of commission.
Psychologists predicted this type of helplessness would occur back when Tang hit the grocery store shelves in 1959. They were right; I found the whole family standing around the microwave, mouths open, clutching Rubbermaid containers of leftovers and staring dumbly at a machine that simply would not work no matter how many times they pushed the start button.
“What are we going to do?” the kids asked, bewildered.
I initially suggested putting the leftovers in the regular oven. Everyone went lynch mob on me. Didn’t I understand? They were starving to death! Warming food in the regular oven would take days. Nobody has that kind of time.
Always the problem solver, I told them we had no choice but to eat out.
No sooner was the new microwave installed than I lost my cell phone. When it didn’t turn up after two days of searching, I headed over to U.S. Cellular to get a new phone. As luck would have it, the company has been running some all-important computer update this week.
“I can’t get you a new phone until Thursday,” the sales clerk said.
Thursday? As in, five days from the day I lost it? Are you kidding me?
The man assured me he wasn’t joking and I left the store, deflated. Honestly, he might as well have just cut my arms off; it’s been that much of an inconvenience.
Using a land line might seem like an obvious solution, had we not had it disconnected several years ago. Besides, all my contacts were saved in my cell phone. Without the numbers, I couldn’t call anybody from an alternate phone. I no longer bother to memorize phone numbers; my cell phone does it for me. Back in the day, I could rattle off the phone numbers of all my friends. I can still tell you Joy Funkhouser’s number. 6-4945. Stacey Woody: 6-6285.
The younger people of the community are scratching their heads. Why dial 6, when 472 is Fairfield’s primary telephone prefix? Once upon a time, 472 was too complicated for our simple way of life. Six sufficed just fine. In fact, I remember being pretty put out when we had to start dialing 472. What a hassle. That’s when Time and Temperature became 472-6531, which has never trickled off the tongue like when the number was 6-6531.
Ah, those were the days.
After a few days without my cell phone, I briefly started to long for a quieter time when we only had our home phone and smoke signals to communicate by. I really wish I’d kept our land line on. Had I done so, I could have avoided a week-long sequester from society.
The real kicker came when, shut off from civilization, I had nothing left to do but laundry. I went to switch a load from the washer to the dryer, and stepped into a flood zone. The seal on my front loading machine had torn and the water that should have been inside the drum was all over the kitchen floor.
I may speak for all mothers when I say that my washing machine completes me. With seven cycles, a stainless steel wash basket and precision dispenser drawer, nothing gets clothes cleaner than my 4.3 cubic feet capacity washing machine with front load design– unless you’re still using a wash board. If not, there’s nothing better. When I walked onto that appliance show room floor, this washer – with delay-start and a quiet wash ultra noise reduction system – had me from hello.
Less than five years later, Baby is broken.
Roger assuaged my sorrow by assuring me he could fix it himself with a replacement part that would only cost $175 – a price that included express shipping so we could get the part in two days rather than two weeks, when we’d be out of clean clothes to wear.
Express shipping is another modern “convenience” I am baffled by. If your company has the capability to box up my merchandise and set it on my porch two days later, why isn’t that just the standard? Why do I have to pay $45 extra for an employee to do his best work?
I’ll tell you why. Because in large part, the American work ethic went out of style about the same time progress dictated that people in Fairfield had to start dialing 472 and inventive spelling became a catch phrase in U.S. educational institutions.
We’re trading smart kids for smart phones.
As a teacher, I’ve been mulling over changes in education for a few years now, and while I believe there have been some positive advances, I can’t say they are all good. We talk about rigor, but at the same time, we’re making things easier for kids all the time. I don’t necessarily think that’s the direction we should go. I’d be willing to wager my teaching salary that nobody is making things easier on kids in China and India.
Many of you can still remember a time when b4 was just a phrase called out at the weekly Bingo tournament; it wasn’t used in formal writing to indicate “earlier or sooner than.” Most teens today can’t even read or write in cursive. We’ve got a whole generation of people who are going to have to print their names on their mortgage loan applications.
Are we evolving or dissolving?
I was blessed to get to spend Monday evening at the 24-acre farm of Cory and Shawn Klehm and their kids, Corynn, Reese and Khai. The Klehms grow their own food as a family and have everything they need on their property to sustain a healthy, happy lifestyle.
Personable and very well-adjusted, the Klehm kids are not your typical American teen and pre-teens. They are limited to just an hour of technology per day. They don’t drink pop. They don’t eat out. Every night, they sit down and eat dinner as a family without other distractions. They avoid additives and preservatives at all costs.
Having been shielded in large part from video games and social networking, the kids are able to carry on meaningful conversations with adults, even making eye contact. Corynn will tell you all about her sweet corn, which she is selling to fund the purchase of her first car.
Reese is a junior beekeeper, adopted by the Southeast Iowa Beekeepers Association. He can tell you everything you need to know about bees and the honey they produce. Khai’s specialty is his chickens, but he’ll also happily talk to you about carrots, tomatoes and the front flip he can do into the family pond.
“It’s a simple life,” Cory Klehm told me. “And once we made things simple, there was more clarity.”
Clarity. Maybe that’s what America needs.
Cory said technology has made us numb to nature; I’d go so far as to say it’s made us numb to just about everything. We’re crippled by the very contraptions we hoped would help us. We’ve lost our way.
It’s crystal clear; we need clarity!
That’s why I’ve decided I’ll cook something this weekend. I’ll use the regular oven, and Roger, the kids and I will have dinner together at the table instead of in front of the tube. Maybe I’ll bake something, too – from scratch. Maybe we’ll throw all caution to the wind and for the sake of clarity, we’ll use placemats and cloth napkins. Can’t you just feel the fervor?
Oh, YES! I’m going to bring clarity to the brigade!
Just as soon as I get my cell phone replaced.
– Staci Ann Wilson Wright lives and teaches in Fairfield. She is a summer Ledger staff writer.