My husband recently installed a GPS in my car. Not that I asked him to. Not that I even wanted another technological gadget added to my already technologically challenged life. But it’s the thought that counts, right? Until I figured out how to shut up the robotically sweet voice (he calls her “Betty”, hmmm), it was almost eery. Even silenced, I am constantly distracted by the video game like quality of the screen that is forever in my field of vision on the windshield.
Still, it could come in handy he insisted. It would help me find customer’s houses. Or the houses hosting the birthday parties that my children attend almost weekly. And when we go on vacation just think how great it will be to have Betty leading our way! I was sucked right in to this bigger, better life until I was happily observing Betty observing me as I drove to the hospital to visit a friend. As I got on the exit ramp suddenly the road disappeared and according to Betty I was flying through the air not attached to any road! That exit ramp is relatively new, but I’m sure it’s been open at least a year. What else does Betty not know? If I trust her and throw away my maps – I might become irrevocably lost.
Will having this GPS in my car strip away another life skill? Reading (and folding) a paper map? My children have already grown up shoelace challenged from a lifetime of velcro and unreliable clock readers thanks to the gift of digital. I have friends that might just starve to death if you took away their microwaves. Most elementary schools don’t bother teaching script anymore. My children are amazed at my cursive writing. How do I do that? I am terrified that they will someday be in a life or death situation and have a note explaining their escape slipped to them only to discover it is written in script and they can’t even read it. Or what about an old-fashioned boss who still uses that ancient form of communication – paper and pen and heaven forbid, even writes in cursive? All this progress seems to be making us more helpless than ever. I take a strange pride knowing that I can cook over an open flame, my hands don’t cramp up after writing a few sentences, and I can tie a slip knot that holds. I’m an excellent navigator with a map and can even tell which direction I’m going based on the sun.
None of my children stuck with the scouts. But I am trying to raise them to be competent, self-reliant individuals, still I wonder if they could survive in a third world country with no Velcro or digital clocks? Could they have a written correspondence with anyone over 50? Of course you could argue that who really needs to tie a shoelace – you can find a slip on version of just about any shoe. And what isn’t digital these days? No one has real clocks. I grew up in a house with a clock that had roman numerals. My children just wrinkle their brows in disbelief at that reality.
Tell any teenager these days that you grew up without a microwave or DVD player or Direct TV. (Don’t even mention that you didn’t have a video player because they barely remember them anymore!) They are shocked, horrified – how could you have survived? No cell phones? The horror!
I’ve been thinking that a great new job might be as an electrical outage survival consultant. Or maybe a generational communications consultant. The gap seems to be growing and I truly don’t want these abilities to disappear. Maybe that’s because if they did that might make me pretty obsolete too. Or maybe that just makes me eccentric. Either way, I hate to see a day when a person can’t function without his handheld electronic organizer or find her way around her own city if all the satellites were absconded by aliens.
I’m all for progress, truly I am. I have nothing against it. I am amazed by what is possible these days. But at the same time, I’m not ready to trust it all either. I feel better knowing I don’t really need any of it. I do like to play sudoku on my palm pilot. And Betty is a form of entertainment too; trying to find roads that don’t exist in her reality is a strange thrill. I love to hear her incredibly calm voice telling me to make a U-turn at the next available safe intersection. I picture her sighing in frustration and disappointment as I ignore yet another of her simple directives.
I guess what I’m trying to say is – it’s important to know how to tie your shoes and read a clock. It’s important to know how to heat water on a stove and read a street map. Maybe they seem just like learning trigonometry – unnecessary skills you will never use in real life. But I believe they are important because the world will always change. And the further we move in the direction of complete dependence on all things technological, the further we get from the earth and where we came from. Just because there are calculators, doesn’t mean you don’t need to learn arithmetic. When it comes down to it, depending on technological advancements can make a brain pretty lazy (unless you are the brain coming up with the technological advancements). So humor me, teach your children how to make popcorn on the stove (or better yet – over the fire). Teach them how much fun it is to write a capital Z in cursive. Buy them a pair of sneakers with real laces. And if they don’t seem to be particularly motivated, ask them just who wins Survivor anyway?