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Commentary: Sorry, kids, but I prefer obsolete to oblivious

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William Carter, columnist

William Carter is a retired longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at wcarterfranklin@aol.com.

When I took my coffee from the console of my truck for a sip the other morning, it went “clunk,” alerting me to the fact my cellphone was submerged in that cup of Maxwell House Morning Blend.  

How it got there is still a mystery. I suspect it had something to do with one of my more and more frequent “senior moments.”  

Some would call them “brain farts,” but I don’t really care for the visuals my mind conjures up when I hear that term.

Anyway, a couple of days later, Love-Weasel and I found ourselves in the “phone store” looking for a replacement for my caffeine-saturated device. To say we wandered around like a couple of rubes on their first trip to the Big City would be an understatement. Well, I did.

“Gah-lee!” I exclaimed, pointing at the sleek, rectangular enigma on display in the center of the store like the black monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “What is that?!”

“That’s a phone,” said Darrell, our very friendly, very helpful and more than slightly amused sales rep.

“And that, what is that?!” I asked, pointing at another thing I have already determined to be part of the control panel salvaged from the UFO-wreckage in Roswell, New Mexico.

“Um, that’s a phone, too,” Darrell replied before asking how he can be of assistance to us.

Darrell did not laugh outright when I showed him my dead only-makes-and-receives-calls-and-sends-the-occasional-text-message phone and tell him I want one just like it. He did smile a sad smile and shook his head a bit.

“Those are hard to find these days,” he gently informed me. “They’re kind of obsolete now.”

I looked at the small chunk of plastic in my hand, thinking of how only a few short years ago it was considered to be one of the greatest technological creations in human history and tried to fix the word “obsolete” to it, but I couldn’t. After all, I still wear underwear I bought before our eldest son was born, and the only thing wrong with my 30-year-old Sears Craftsman circular saw is that it needs a new blade, so I am not a man who readily accepts the word “obsolete.” 

As I pondered the apparent short shelf life of modern-day miracles, Darrell perused our contract.

“My gosh!” he exclaimed, “You’ve never upgraded your phones! Y’all could all get new smart phones at no additional cost! Why haven’t you upgraded?”  

He then proceeded to show us all the smart phones we’re eligible for now, and all the things they can do, but I didn’t pay too much attention. I had, for the moment, drifted away, back to the time of the indestructible 5-pound Bakelite rotary phones that could be used as door stops or, if needed, murder weapons, and a time of party lines (look it up, young ones) and having to actually write down or remember someone’s number if you wanted to give them a call, and how your sisters had to stretch the phone cord to its limit and maybe hide behind the kitchen door and whisper if they wanted to keep a phone call to or from some boy a secret. 

 I thought about my great Aunt Nettie, who was a switchboard operator and spent her work days saying “Number, please?” And then I remembered when long-distance calls were considered to be special occasions and how empires could rise and fall in the time it took to dial a phone number that had a bunch of nines or zeroes in it.

Back in the present, Darrell poked at the screen of what will soon be my new phone. There are brightly colored icons on it that will instantly connect me to things I’m pretty sure I’ll never need. My new phone also has a flashlight and a compass, I suppose in case I get lost in the dark.  

He talked about magic things such as “apps” and mega-pixels and streaming video and how I would now have instant access to news — 24/7.  

I nodded as if I understood, knowing damn well I didn’t. I am, after all, of the generation that was rendered speechless by the Slinky, whose day’s ends were punctuated at 11 p.m. by the tinny but sincere sounds of the national anthem through the speakers of a 200-pound RCA television and that accepted news to be whatever Walter Cronkite — the most trusted man in America — said was news.

The new “phone” is on my desk beside me as I write this. It is still enigmatic but it’s not powered up. 

I’m not afraid of the future by any means, or of modern technology. It’s just that when I turn the damned thing on, I can’t help but envision it emitting tendrils of digital fog that invade their way into my brain with the intention of altering the way I think or of making me a slave. 

In case you think I’m being paranoid, old-fashioned or just plain foolish, just open your eyes. The proof of my paranoia is all around us in a population that is slack-jawed and enthralled by a constant dosing of digital opiates from those sleek slivers of plastic and silicon, a population that is oblivious to the real world and has been since the very second mankind was capable of holding all that power in just one hand.

Maybe I’ll crank up the compass on my new phone and see if true north is still where it’s supposed to be. How comforting is that?  

Even better, maybe I’ll stream some old videos of Walter Cronkite. I didn’t realize until now just how much I miss him.

And that’s the way it is.

 

 

William Carter is a retired longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at wcarterfranklin@aol.com.

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