A fellow named David Ranta recently became a free man after spending 22 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He says he’s finding it very difficult to adapt to the fast-paced world of 2013, which is, evidently, much speedier than those dreamy, dawdlin’ days of 1991.
I guess getting rid of those dial-up modems really made a difference.
“I feel like I’ve been dropped onto another planet–everything has changed, and everything that I’ve known is gone,’’ Ranta told The New York Post. “The first time I ate at a restaurant and used their restroom, I couldn’t figure out how to use the sink; it was one of those automatic motion-sensor faucets. I had to get someone to show me what to do, and I felt embarrassed.”
I can’t remember the first time I encountered one of those faucets. How did I know how to operate it? I’m pretty sure I didn’t have to call tech support. On the other hand, I do recall the first time I used a motion-sensor toilet bowl. When it suddenly flushed itself, it would have scared the crap out of me if I hadn’t just…
Where was I? Oh, right. The guy who got out of prison.
Ranta’s point, I guess, in addition to making a case for why New York should give him several million dollars in restitution, is that even activities like washing your hands have gotten so complicated you need someone under 30 to show you how to do it. I have nothing against the march of progress, but I have a problem when it includes goose steps of superfluous technology that unnecessarily complicates life without making it appreciably better.
Consider that when Ranta went to prison…
- Light bulbs looked like light bulbs, not some twisted abominations that take precious seconds to come on, all in the name of saving the planet or some such thing.
- Cameras used “film” which had to be “developed” before you could send photos of your “junk” to female “admirers.”
- When you drove someplace for the first time (or, in my case, the eighth), you had to ask for directions, or consult something called a “map.” Ranta, upon motoring home from prison, was probably shocked the first time the car spoke to him (“Turn right just past the armed guards…”), and even more surprised when the nice lady told him to go the wrong way on a one-way street.
- The World Wide Web was just a year old. Most people hadn’t used it yet and those that did would wait until 1994 for stuff to download. Mark Zuckerberg was seven years old. People kept their cat videos to themselves, and didn’t yet feel the need to inform others of their every mood swing.
- Folks watched television programs when they were actually broadcast, complete with commercials, unless they used a “video cassette recorder” to tape shows that they would then forget to watch until they were packing to move to Connecticut in 2011, when they wondered what was on the quaint, unmarked relics in that drawer but decided it wasn’t worth the effort of inserting the tape into the antique equipment to find out, even though they actually still owned said equipment precisely for the purpose of playing their extensive collection of obsolete tapes, and so they simply threw the mystery cartridge out instead, assuming it was likely to be something like an episode of Cheers, which they could now stream for free anyway. Not that my family ever did anything like that.
- The TVs to which these VCRs were connected did not hang on the wall as if they were works of art, and could be hooked up without the need of an engineering degree. Your coffee table was not covered with dozens of remote controls, and if you had somebody over, they could probably figure out how to turn on the TV and tune it to a channel without a manual.
- Speaking of manuals, you could purchase a new car and not have it come with a 500-page owner’s manual which only covers the entertainment system.
- “Text” was a noun, not a verb, and generally appeared in a “book,” which was only available on “paper.” You could not carry your entire library around with you, not to mention your entire collection of recorded music, all on a device that you could also use to take photos of your “junk” and send them to female “admirers.”
- You could walk the entire island of Manhattan and not have access to a Frappucino. At the time, there were only about 140 Starbucks® nationwide. Now there are about 140 Starbucks in midtown. (I know–it’s not technology-related, but still…)
- Windows 3.0 had just been released. In fact, it was so new, the number of crashes only numbered in the millions.
- The latest cell phone model, the Motorola MicroTac, could be purchased for around $2,500, which meant that only important people could afford to be obnoxious. Now everybody thinks they’re important enough to make phone calls–in a loud voice–from the next table at a restaurant.
Here’s the thing: everything above has pretty much become an integral part of everyday existence. Yet none of it is necessary, and it can be argued that none of it has done very much to improve the quality of our lives.
Which leads me to this conclusion: too much of our ingenuity and expertise is being used to invent the technological equivalent of a 4-year old child hopping on one foot in front of you while repeatedly yelling “Look what I can do.”
It just gets really annoying after awhile, you know?
See you soon.