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Editorials

When life was simpler

Tuesday, January 20, 2015   by: David Root

A lot of us  are old enough to remember a time when life was simpler.

Not easier, mind you. But simpler.

Baby Boomers grew up reading (really, I could put a full stop there) newspaper and magazine stories, and watching tv shows and reports describing what wondrous things technology would do for us in the future.

I’m still waiting for my “Jetson’s” flying car.

The “House of the Future” hasn’t quite come into being, yet, but it’s getting closer.

Check it out — http://youtu.be/VowfYuhx1-o

In fact, while many of the predictions from the 50s and 60s were downright absurd, some have come to fruition. 

For instance, in my lifetime I have watched as telephones have gone from rotary dial to Touch Tone® to wireless to mobile (cell) service to Smart Phone. 

I never had to stand in front of my vehicle and turn the crank to start it, but I learned to drive in a 1960 Ford F-100 with a 3-speed transmission, standard steering, and standard brakes.

Today’s vehicles don’t even have keys, and many features can only be operated through touch-screen panels. 

But they don’t fly… yet. Although it seems they will soon drive themselves.

It wasn’t really all that long ago that “motion pictures” were capturing people’s attention: jerky, black-and-white images with no sound, and with someone off to the side providing musical accompaniment on a twangy,  upright piano.

And then “talkies” were proposed, although the idea didn’t catch on right away. Mogul H. M. Warner is infamous for his retort, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"

Black-and-white, colour, “talkies”, 3-D (remember the red-and-green glasses), CGI, and now Real 3-D® … not to mention video tapes, DVDs, Blue-Rays, downloadable and now digital streaming. The changes have been astounding.

There has been a lot of progress in the past 50 years, far beyond what all but a few of the brighter amongst us could ever have imagined.

In many ways, the things we need to do and the way we do them are simpler than ever. But are they easier?

Perhaps you’ve heard the story about how NASA was stymied in trying to find a writing instrument for its astronauts to use in space. Typical ballpoint pens did not work properly in a zero gravity environment. Millions was supposed to have been spend developing a pen that would work in these conditions.

Meanwhile, the Soviets gave their cosmonauts pencils.

It’s a great story, and does offer that “why spend all that money and effort when a simple solution is already at hand” moral, but… it’s not true.

Both American and Soviet crews initial used pencils. One of the problems, though, is that when the pencil broke, a piece of lead would then be floating around the cabin, and could cause all sorts of problems.

The “Space Pen” was developed independently of either space program, privately funded by Paul Fisher, of the Fisher Pen Co. He offered the pen to NASA, who after testing it thoroughly adopted its use.

But the story does have a message for us, and it is that we do sometimes bring about unnecessary complications into what would ordinarily be a very simple matter.

A few years ago, my friend’s father was telling of how he had thought the battery in his keyless remote had died, or that the locking system was somehow malfunctioning. 

He said that he pressed the button, but his door did not unlock. He walked around the vehicle, pressing the button and trying each of the four doors and the liftgate on his van, but nothing worked. Then he realized he had been pressing the “lock” button.

He said he felt foolish, but it also got him wondering what he would do if the remote stopped working.

I said to him, “You do know you could just use the key, right?”

The thing is, there are vehicles now that do not come with keys, that have only the remote fob. 

They do have an “emergency key”, of sorts, hidden inside the fob itself, in case the fob dies. In some cases, it's just a plastic tool that pops the lock. But this certainly doesn’t make things easy.

Electronics and technology are re-shaping our lives. 

Devices can be purchased to allow you to contact your home by smartphone, turning on lights, locking doors, adjusting the temperature, and many other tasks. 

Refrigerators can scan bar codes and keep an running inventory, even placing an order with a grocery store in some cases.

We’re not quite at the Star Trek level of automation, but it’s coming.

"Computer. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot."

Some tasks will be simpler, but will that make our lives easier?

In the 60s, when all the home-automation predictions were on the cusp between science-fiction and reality, we were promised less work and more leisure time.

I’m still waiting.

The “less work” aspect really only reduced the time it took to perform certain chores. But in place of additional leisure time, this only meant we could squeeze more activity into the day.

Even in the work place, automation and technology hasn’t always been the blessing that was promised. Again, if you could do in one hour what used to take three, that just meant you could get more work done.

On a typical Sunday, I will be either leading worship or playing music at an area church, most often “down the line” — between Echo Bay and Thessalon.

On my way there, I take the highway, arriving in time to prepare and greet others as they arrive. 

After the service, however, the time is — usually — my own, with the rest of the day before me. I will find a place to have lunch, then go for a very relaxing drive in the country.

I am becoming quite familiar with the network of back roads in Central Algoma, and enjoy a more leisurely drive homeward, often — especially in the summer — with stops along the way to fish or swim, or just sit and read a book, or exploring new roads leading off into the woods.

I occasionally encounter Mennonites, individuals or families, clip-clopping along in their buggies. I’m not sure I could revert to that simple of a lifestyle, but it holds some appeal.

No, it wouldn’t be easier, necessarily. There would be chores to be done, and done without the aid of modern appliances and power equipment. 

On the other hand, it would be good, honest, fulfilling work.

I’m not suggesting that we discard all our modern conveniences and revert to an 18th century way of life.

But I am suggesting that, for all the advances in technology, our lives are not all that simple any more.

Having said that, there are people who do make the time for at least a break from the hustle and bustle, who schedule some relaxing, low-tech time — a walk in the woods, skating, cycling… what have you.

But overall, our lives have perhaps become busier, with more activity and less free time.

Remember when virtually nothing except the corner store was open on Sunday? When very few people had to work on Sunday? When there was no sports league play on Sunday?

Certainly there is an element of personal choice involved, but ironically there also is some effort required to have a simpler life.

I can’t help wonder, though, that if we could all manage to squeeze in even a half-day of “simple” — no smart phones, no internet, no rushing around and responding to phone calls and messages — and just take some quiet time for ourselves, if that might not help us all relax a bit.

I think that would make life just a bit simpler, and more enjoyable.

 

But… that’s just my opinion.

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