19 June, 2006


My father has never seen an electrically-powered labor-saving device he didn't feel obliged to use. It's as if the finger of God had inscribed onto one of Moses' stones, Thou shalt not stir the Bisquick by hand, nor shalt thou wash dishes by hand, nor shalt thou leave the remote control in the same place twice, lest I come into thy living room and strike thy home theater with doom. Presumably, the Almighty used some labor-saving device to do this; who knows. If man's destiny is to resemble God, progress suggests that God is awfully lazy.

I don't mention this as a criticism about my father; my father is actually quite sane. I'm the wacko around here. A passionate love for gadgetry is inscribed onto the Western soul, yet somehow it bypassed me altogether. Perhaps God was changing the batteries when my soul slipped past. Whatever the cause, I find many popular labor-saving devices to be more a nuisance more than a practical benefit.

I'd rather knead pizza dough and stir pancake mix by hand than pull out the electric beaters. To start with, I'd have to figure out where my wife keeps them. That's too much hassle, and besides, I like stirring the pizza dough and the pancake mix by hand.

Nor do I mind doing the dishes by hand. My wife appears to feel the same way, since a dishwasher sits quietly next to our kitchen sink, and I have not once seen her put a plate in there, even when I encouraged her once or twice.

I also prefer to rake leaves with a hand rake rather than the noisy, bulky leaf blower, and I loathe those riding lawn mowers.

The way some of my friends and family act when they see this, you'd think I should be hauled before a reconstituted House Un-American Activities Committee. It's not that we're some sort of Luddites, not at all. I use the computer more than is probably healthy. My wife liked the front-loading washer so much much that she spent an entire week after we bought it trying to find reasons to use it. We have a television with a DVD player. True, these last two were wedding gifts from a friend, but we do use them. We have a Netflix subscription. You see, we're not opposed to technology per se; we just don't get the modern passion for tech gadgets. — Well, let me speak for myself here. I dont' get the modern passion for tech gadgets.

Cell phones, above all. I don't understand why anyone would want to be reached at any location, at any inconvenient time, by any fool to whom they have given their phone number. I can barely put up with people interrupting my thoughts on my land line. I don't have time enough as it is; why on earth would I want to waste it on a phone conversation? If it's that important, come visit me and talk. I'd much rather have your company anyway. If you don't want to share my company, then why are you pestering me on the phone? Write an email, which is far less intrusive — or better yet, take the time to write a letter on paper. That's a lost art, and we're much the poorer for it.

I have even been embarassed by a cell phone ringing in the middle of Mass despite the fact that I don't own one. I have a family member to thank for this. I won't name the individual, but the ringtone was rich in irony: a jazzy version of "Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In."

I repeat that I'm not opposed to the technology per se. Certainly priests and other emergency responders ought to have access to such things. The technology can even be useful for grumps such as myself. Our Saturn Ion came with one free year of GM's OnStar service, which includes a hands-free phone service built into the car. I have to pay for the minutes I use, but I don't mind at all; it's actually quite nice. The phone doesn't follow me wherever I go, and its ring doesn't startle one at inappropriate times such as Mass. I did receive a wrong number once, and I began to fear the worst, but that calmed down. Later, my wife was able to call me when her labor started, and I turned around on the road to Raleigh. Now, that's useful.

Then there are the calculators in general, and the graphing calculators in particular. What a disaster they have been for math education! Texas Instruments has a brilliant marketing arm that the rest of the technology sector desperately needs to study; TI knows exactly what buttons to push to get otherwise intelligent people to pony up huge sums of money on a device that is far less useful than a textbook.

I'm teaching a class on Discrete Mathematics to middle school teachers, and I asked how much graphing calculators run these days. "About $100," they told me. What an appalling waste! Can you name a single computing device whose cost has increased in the last ten years, while remaining essentially unchanged? Schools could buy low-end Palm handheld computers at roughly the same price, and get a machine that has far more capabilities than a graphing calculator.

(As surely as I say that, some wit will manufacture an argument that these graphing calculators really are more cost-effective than the Palm handhelds. BAH!!! If Palm had half the sense and marketing genius of TI, education would have been revolutionized a decade ago at a much lower cost.)

As you have probably guessed, I'm exposing my own hypocrisy here. I've been lusting after a Palm lately; I'm aware that my life isn't very organized, and I need some help. I had a Hanspring Visor once. It worked wonders for a few months; I wrote one program to keep track of attendance, and another to provide me with prayers during the day. Then my life calmed down, and I stopped using it. Eventually, I donated it to an electronics recycling facility. Fool! Now that I have a family, my life has grown insane again. I've tried the paper-based organizers, but they don't cut it.

I visited Best Buy to check out a Palm, but I wasn't able to do more than look at a blank screen. The power cable was missing, and someone had walked off with the stylus. You can see how earnest Best Buy are about selling these things. The salesman offered rather lamely, There isn't that much demand in Rocky Mount for that sort of thing. Nor will there be, if that's the best you can demonstrate. In any case, people are too busy squandering their gotten gains on graphing calculators, camera phones (the guy who thought those up deserves a sound spanking), and car alarms that squeal every time thunder rolls through. People can't be bothered to do something useful with their money, like organize their lives. A pox on the lot of you!

Quite the Christian today, aren't I?

I'll keep riding my bicycle, beating my eggs, stirring my mixes, kneading my dough, and washing my dishes by hand when I can. It may be easier to push a button, sit back, and let the electric genius do the work for me, but something's lost when you find that more valuable than touching the food you make, the dishes you eat from, and the world you live in.

1 comment:

Elliot said...

You preach it, brother!!