Beau December 18th, 2008
Did you ever have the feeling that the things you are really good at are no longer useful? Or at least less useful? I’ve been thinking about that lately. Take spelling for example. You know, spelling words correctly? I was always a great speller, and memorized words very easily. But what good is that now?! Okay, when I write here I don’t have to check spelling very often. But it’s not a skill that gets you anywhere… nowadays we have “spell checkers” so whether you know how to spell or not really doesn’t matter. I don’t use ’em, and if I make a mistake here it’s usually because I hit the wrong key. But dang… I’ve been outdone by technology.
And typing? I guess that’s still useful when writing- I can type pretty fast. But there are voice translators now… you can just talk into a microphone and the text shows up on the screen. Of course I can’t type worth a darn on little cell phones or a mobile PDA. Texting? Okay I can do that. It’s kind of a pain. I’m all thumbs.
Oh, and how about knowing where you are? Some folks are directionally challenged, but in a strange way I’ve always had an amazing built-in compass. I know where I am, how to get somewhere, and which way is north, south, etc, at any moment in time no matter where I am. It’s pretty handy when I’m out in the woods in the middle of nowhere, or cruising a tangle of suburban streets. I may not know an exact address, but I can always find my way around.
But these days it seems like a pretty marginal skill. Everyone’s got a Garmin GPS or onboard nav system in the car. Put an address in there and it’s like being on autopilot. You can follow the directions of the GPS-thingy, and not have a freakin’ clue where you are. It’s magic. My brother and I once drove from the Black Forest in Germany all through the Bavarian Alps… at night, and simply followed “The Voice.”
And I can’t complain- we got one and took it on a trip around Lake Michigan. We found places that we wouldn’t have even known about without the Garmin, and it made the trip both easier and a lot more fun.
I used to be really good at tuning up an engine, and fixing mechanical things. I guess it’s still a handy skill with lawnmowers and such, but I can’t do anything with cars and trucks anymore. They’re all a mass of wires and computers under the hood these days!
And fixing things just isn’t the same anymore anyway. It’s usually cheaper to throw something away and buy a new one. We live in a disposable society, and that seems a shame. If we take care of things, they used to last. These days they aren’t meant to last it seems. But I still like trying to make them last… and squeezing every last drop of utility out of them.
I’ll waste too much time trying to make something work rather than throw it away and get a new one. One time I “fixed” a $500 CD stereo… it wouldn’t play CD’s anymore. I took it apart and adjusted and cleaned all the components really well. Worked like a charm after that. I was very proud of myself… but these days that same stereo system costs about $50 at the big box store. Okay it’s a little old. But it still works!
Oh, and I did fix our bread maker. One of those neat machines that makes bread? That we don’t hardly ever use? A little kneading paddle stopped working. My stubborn side made me take the whole thing apart one day after it sat on the shelf for three years… I found a nut had worked loose and the bearing was slipping. That’s all. Tightened it up, back together and it works like a charm too. We still don’t use it, but we can if we want to.
Hey but I’m certainly not stubborn enough to take apart a sewing machine pedal and swap electronic components… I heard a guy named Ron did that recently. If I can find the link to his site I’ll put it up here… :) But I was stubborn enough to try and fix an old trimline phone in the barn. You know, one from 30 years ago with a really long cord attached to it? Sentimental reasons… never mind.
But society is evolving. We have not only become more mobile, but a lot more social. Just think of this blog. There’s a lot of folks reading my wandering thoughts who I’ll never know… but we’re all interacting and I’m sharing this aspect of our lives with a bunch of people. It is pretty cool. And there’s a few others I think of as friends that I’ve met only through this form of communication, and I really have no idea who they are. We’re never really “out of touch” in our life anymore. Between the internet, email and cell phones… we can almost always talk to people half a world away.
There was a time I remember being at sea, not having a phone or any ability to communicate beyond writing letters. Letters that took three weeks to get to someone half way around the world. And to get a response from them took another three weeks. You could have an argument that took almost a month and a half… on paper! It’s weird to even think of such times anymore. We’ve seen decades of change, especially rapid over the last 15+ years, and it’s still changing fast. It can be hard to keep up with at times.
Did you see the Wall-E movie? It’s pretty cute, and makes you think about the future. At one point there’s this self-contained tourist spaceship that was lost centuries ago, and there’s still people living on it that have “evolved” as humans who don’t actually do anything. They ride around all day on these automated, floating lounge chairs, sucking on milk shakes…. in space. They’ve become “weight challenged” and look like big ‘ole chubby dudes with short legs. Pretty funny. And sad… it worries me to think we’re on that path somehow. People these days might grow up thinking they don’t have to actually do much of anything. They’ll either buy something, have someone (something?) do it for them, or throw it away.
I hope it doesn’t come to that. I hope we will always value the human endeavor… our collective experience, knowledge, skills and lessons learned. I’m a Boomer, part of that enormous generation that’s influencing public policy in so many ways these days. But I’m kind of near the end of that group so I have a lot of crossover between the generations.
As much as I lament how technological change seems to make basic living skills less relevant at times, I must also admit that those same changes have made our lives a lot easier. And a lot better in myriad ways, not the least of which includes life-saving advances in healthcare.
I’m thankful for the reliability of our vehicles, heating and cooling systems and so many of the other basic things we take for granted each day. In fact I love technology and all the cool things we can do, and there are aspects of my life that exist solely because of the advances in technology… I can only acknowledge it all with gratitude. And if we need help with something, it’s usually pretty easy to find someone that can help us with it, at least for a price.
I guess I have to admit that I’m getting older. Changes happens, and we can run from it, or embrace it. I’ve always enjoyed change, and adapted willingly, embracing the wonders of life as it unfolds. But it isn’t always easy. I’ve reached that point where I’m finally seeing the wide gradients of change in my life, and it’s kind of humbling.
Old reading, but one of my favorite essays is Emerson’s Self Reliance. It bothers me not to able to take care of things or accomplish things independently. I’m still kind of stubborn with making things work… it’s just the way I am. And basic skills do come in handy around the homefront. Knowledge and skills can bring security, especially when the most basic of human needs are crucial to survival. Maybe I’m still running on vestigial fumes of generations past. I just like knowing how to do things, and it bothers me not to be able to do them. I know it bothers other people too… especially as we grow older. And if I lived somewhere that I didn’t
have to get to tinker with things, I wouldn’t really know what to do with myself. One of these days that will change too. I just hope not too much.