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First World Problems: Moving Past the Plugged-in Society – Part 1

I used to shake my head in wonder at how difficult it was to get my father to use new technology. We had a rotary phone for a very long time…and when we finally got a phone with buttons, my father fought the idea of having a phone that could be detached from the cord. I was 18 before he even allowed the Panasonic cordless phone, and by that time, people had pagers, and cell phones were beginning to be more common. Technology and the access to the internet erupted quickly in the few years between high school and my graduation from university. My father staunchly refused to be a part of the technological trend. He said he had no desire to be that reachable. He loved the fact that if he went hiking, there was no disturbance from the rest of the world. He could just be with God, in nature, and able to listen to the birds singing.

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By the time he passed away, when he was 70, he had partially accepted the technological world, although only as far as he was forced to. He went back to college, and got a diploma in counselling. He had learned to use the computer, even owning a laptop that was connected to the internet. In the last three months before he passed away, he had even gotten a cell phone and learned to text.

Closeup of businessman using mobile phone

When I was a child, the world was moving at a slower place. We lived in a small town in Northern BC, and didn’t feel the rush of the world as badly as if we were in the city. Even with that, the cities were slower than they are now. People didn’t answer phones when they weren’t home, leaving answering machine messages was an expected skill to learn, just as were appropriate times to phone people. If you ordered something, it was generally from the Sears catalog, and you waited for it to arrive at the store, knowing that it would take a good four to six weeks to arrive. If the store didn’t have what you wanted, you chose something else or drove to another store. People spoke to each other, face to face, in the same room, across the fence, or dropped in to visit when they wanted to see each other. The phone was not something we were on for hours at a time, and if we were, we paid for it. If someone went out hiking, you waited until they returned to speak to them. If they didn’t return after a full day, or perhaps by the second day, you called the rescue teams to look for them. That was the world my father loved.

I have seen both the simplicity of the way things were when I was a child, and the complexity of our lives today. We have so much technology infused into our lives now, that we seem to have lost the skill of waiting to gratify our desires. We have access to the internet at our fingertips, carrying our personal computers in our pockets in the form of cell phones. We don’t need a different device to listen to music, watch television, videos or take pictures. All of those devices are now encased in our cell phones, and brought with us everywhere. If the internet is slow, we become impatient, getting frustrated if we actually have to go to the bank instead of just doing it online. We pay thousands of dollars for technology that we carry around with us, and we have access to the knowledge of the world in our hands. We rarely pick up actual books, as they are available on the internet. I would say that the funniest thing I have seen this holiday is a series of commercials on TV that presented shopping in stores as a revolutionary thing, as opposed to online shopping. It was funny, but sobering in a way. You don’t realize how incredibly attached we are to our devices until we have an interruption in data availability, internet connectivity or we lose a device.

A couple of years ago, I gave my son a regular toothbrush at Christmas to replace his old battery powered Oral B toothbrush. He took it upstairs to use it, but came down within a few minutes looking at his toothbrush and shaking it. He said, “Mom, how do you turn on this toothbrush? I think you need to take it back. It doesn’t work.” It was hilarious. Until I realized that I have been raising children that would be absolutely useless in a world without electronics and the internet. While they are fully functional in the world with electronics, information available from every part of the world, they would not last more than a day in a world stripped of it. They think sometimes that food should just appear when they announce they are hungry, assimilate right in their bellies, and not interrupt their playing. We have begun to teach them more useful skills, but it will take a while. They all think they can fight like ninjas and game heroes. I think they’d be the first to be eaten by a bear…or something smaller. These are first world problems…but this is not the way life will be forever, or if it is, great, but I think I need to teach these kids a few more real-world skills. I need to introduce them to the world my father loved. Then they would be able to say with pride that they know something.

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