my stepdaughter declared. “I wish things were back the way they used to be.”
“What? Like when?” I asked.
“You know, before cellphones. Like when the phone was in your house and you had an answering machine.”
“Last time I checked, I think that was also technology,” I replied. “In fact, the entire history of humanity is a relationship with technology. You want to get rid of technology, you get rid of everything – cars, your beloved Netflix, central heat, the food processor you wanted for Christmas. In fact, the invention of the ax, the discovery of fire, they were all technologies in their time. Imagine if there were people thinking like you living back in the dawn of civilization!”
Mar-Mar steps out of her cave and stares at her husband in disgust. She waves the mammoth shank she’s been gnawing. “How long are you going to sit there banging those two rocks together? There are ants to harvest, berries to pick, and you just sit there.”
Grol doesn’t look up. “Look, look! Did you see that?”
“I don’t know, but it’s hot. And…”
I remember my first answering machine. Awesome new technology!
“Ow!” Mar-Mar jumps back, dropping her shank into the fire. “Oh great, now you made me lose a piece of dinner.”
Grol grabs the bone out of the fire, dancing around, “Ow, ow, ow, hot, hot, hot, mmmmmm, this smells good!” He takes a bite. “Delicious! So much better than raw!”
Mar-Mar pouts. “Are you saying you don’t like my steak tartar anymore?”
I remember my first answering machine. Awesome new technology! As a young actor in New York City, I was expected to have an answering service in case. at any moment, an agent might call me for an audition. You were expected to stop at a pay phone every couple of hours to check in with your service. The phone would be answered by a surly, bored person who would say to me, “No messages,” and hang up. It cost $17/month and seemed like highway robbery. My first answering machine took up the entire telephone table, so I had to put the telephone on the bookcase. It was actually a reel-to-reel recorder. Day after day, I’d come home. The little light would be flashing. My heart would pound. But it was always my mother, asking when I was going to marry that bum I live with. Yes, she drove me crazy, but I still preferred hearing her to the answering service.
Now Verizon takes care of my messages for me. I can check anytime, and of course, there’s always a little beep if I want, to let me know that someone, somewhere wants to talk to me. Sometimes, I do wish I had saved those recordings of my Mother’s, just to hear her voice again. “Lavinia, this is your mother calling. (She always said that.) We are worried about you.”
“Lavinia, this is your mother calling. Why are you never home?”
“Lavinia, this is your mother calling. How long are you going to live in sin?” Precious memories lost in the ether of time.
I loved my answering machine, but I didn’t have a relationship with it. From the Big Bang Theory to several movies, contemporary entertainment is offering cautionary tales about falling in love with your device. I have personally cursed the Siri function on my phone, only to have it ask me not to talk that way. I have had a frisson of anxiety rip through me when I realized I had left my phone at home. And I confess to having created my own “Bitmoji,” a kind of cartoon avatar, to express my feelings to friends. Is that a relationship? Has my phone become an extension of me? What would a brain map scan say about our relationship?
Speaking of brains, we’re told that human beings are basically energy, specifically electrical energy. Our neurons literally fire. Each of us emanates a charge. The classic sci-fi film The Matrix bases its entire premise on the fact that humans are bred to be batteries. There is currently technology being developed to allow your body to power everything from a flashlight in your hat, to heating hot water. At any given moment, your body/brain uses enough power to light an LED bulb. Imagine wearing your computer and charging it as you go for a power walk. An apparent side benefit is that if you’re charging your phone with your body, you’ll need more calories to maintain your weight. I’m thinking this would be an amazing ad campaign, Lose Weight While You Charge Your Phone! Now that’s a technology I could use.
The other night at a dinner party, a bunch of my contemporaries started the traditional litany of complaints, the same set of complaints older people have spouted for centuries. Time seems to be going faster. Kids these days have no respect. How can they listen to that awful stuff they call music? Why do we need three remotes? Remember the good old days, when you only needed one? Heck, I remember you had to get up and go to the TV to change the channels.
I sat there thinking, really? They want to go back to those good old days? When women were relegated to the kitchen? When men weren’t allowed to cry? When anyone who was “different” was ostracized? When you couldn’t find an avocado in a supermarket, or get strawberries in February, or press a button and have Amazon deliver your food processor in two days (yes, I bought it for my daughter, it appeared at her door like magic). I could go on and on about the good old days, and why I don’t miss them, but that’s another essay.
Researchers tell us that a way to maintain a supple brain is to keep learning. At this moment, if we don’t keep learning, our machines will soon out pace us in ability, intelligence, and performance. Watching my husband Ron staring at his iPhone screen trying to remember where the calculator function is, I wonder how much of our relationship with technology is related to fear. Here is a man who was one of the first artists to get involved with computer technology, an early adopter of Photoshop, surrounding himself with high-end machines and software. But he can’t find the calculator app on his phone.
“Too many things to look at. Words are so small. I can’t remember what it looks like.” All it would take is sitting down and having the same amount of patience he had back in the day when his computer, which took up half the room, only had 1 MB of memory, and rendering an image took an entire day. Oh, yeah, I bet he’d love to go back to those good old days. What could get those neurons firing to understand and remember how to use this tiny device that has more power than his most powerful computer 15 years ago?
Today, while talking to my daughter about a paper she’s writing, she spoke about the difficulty of typing. “I’m just not good at it,” she sighed.
“Don’t you work in Google docs?” I asked.
“Didn’t you know it has a dictation function? You can just read your document and Google docs will type it for you?”
“Wow. That’s cool.”
“But I’m sure you’d prefer the good old days, when you had to use a typewriter, and change the ribbon, and use the whiteout.”
“Just sayin’. There might be some good things in technology, even for you.”
Personally, one of my favorite uses of technology is microwaving a wrap I have that I can drape around my aching shoulders after a hard day staring at my computer ☺. Problem and solution all “wrapped up” in innovation.
Lavinia still prefers relationships between humans and is dedicated to helping all humans expand their possibilities via the Feldenkrais Method. www.laviniaplonka.com