Based on some of the sceptical posts here, you may think we are closet Luddites at Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies. However, if we don’t always embrace the latest technology, many of us use it. For instance I finally upgraded my Jitterbug wannabe to a new Android phone.
Out With the Old
This has not been without cost; not only in spending money for the upgrade, but learning to navigate a new device and interface. In the past two weeks, I’ve figured out how to download e-mail, sync with my online calendar and downloaded an app to track tasks; all coordinated with my laptop running Ubuntu Linux.
As my wife will attest, I’m more of a closet geek than a Luddite. I’ve built several desktop pcs and assembled my own touring bike from parts. In my consulting work, I’ve figured out what makes shiny new computing toys tick and how people can use them to accomplish tasks. Even still (or because of this), I have to make an effort not to get distracted from my own tasks — assuming I remember what they are – by the vast plethora of virtual possibilities. It’s easy to get sucked down one rabbit hole of technological extensions of our psyche and will and emerge somewhere entirely different in cyberspace, if at all. There be dragons.
I am a fan of the mindful use of technology. I resist having it preoccupy my
Separated at Birth?
existence. Thoreau warned. “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us.” Still, I am seduced like most of us by the siren song that technology can lead to a better world. This is not a new tune, and one not the sole domain of the present.
I recently made a presentation on technology in literature and popular culture. This was to a group ranging in age from their seventies to their nineties. Many of them used e-mail to stay in touch with families and friends. One woman had a Facebook page. Another maintained a web site for her church. A professional in his eighties I know has no use for computers, but downloads books like The Three Musketeers on his Kindle to read in his native French.
During my presentation, I talked about the 1939 World’s Fair, which took place in New York during the Depression on the eve of World War II. Ironically, the theme was ‘Building the World of Tomorrow’1. On a whim, I asked if anyone had a relative or parent who had attended Several people raised their hands.
One attentive woman said ‘I was there.”
“How old were you, if you don’t mind sharing.” I asked.
She smiled. “I was fifteen. We visited the GM exhibit and saw Futurama.”
I thought a minute. She had witnessed the first demonstration of television, florescent lighting, fax machines and streamlined design.
PA RR S1 Locomotive Demonstrated at the 1939 World’s Fair
Earlier when I listed the technology that emerged during World War I, a man with a heavily-accented voice stood up in back.
“You forgot one! My father fought in World War I on the side of the Germans. He said the British tanks scared the hell out of them.”
In a moment I had gone from talking about a subject to being with people who had lived it. This kind of interaction is gold. It’s why I enjoy giving live presentations.
Other members of the group mentioned Nicholas Tesla, who worked for Edison, followed by Westinghouse in East Pittsburgh.
One woman said, “It sounds like a small thing, but when Corningware came out [in the 1950s], it made cooking and fixing meals so much easier.”
So the future arrives accompanied not only by nebulous, overhyped concepts like the cloud or insanely great devices, but by simpler ways to get supper on the table. — CDL
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