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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Progress is Our Least Important Product

By Bettijane Eisenpreis

“The world is going to the dogs; the young no longer respect their elders; and everyone is writing books!”

The above quotation is attributed to a papyrus found in the tomb of some pharaoh in Egypt several thousands of years ago. I cite it because I am acutely aware that the complaint I am about to make is not new.

However, with the invention of the computer and its relative, cyberspace, it feels as if our descent into purgatory has been accelerated.

The other day, I was speaking with a gentleman in his thirties with whom I have a business connection. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I had experienced a problem with my computer and had purchased a new service contract which was somewhat pricey but most satisfactory.

Upon hearing the amount I had paid for the service and the contract, he exclaimed in horror, “But Bettijane, you could have bought a whole new computer for that much money!”

There are several fallacies in this statement. First, I could have purchased some sort of computer for that amount of money but certainly not one of the quality I already possessed. Two, I like my computer. I have loaded onto it a number of useful programs, which a newer model would probably not run. Three, what would happen to my computer, should I decide to replace it? Can it be recycled?

Probably not. Is it composed of reusable components? I doubt it. Unless I could get someone with a car to haul it to one of the few recycling centers in New York, it would probably be added to the growing mountains of landfill that are choking our cities.

We live in a society where not only things but people are increasingly viewed as disposable. I belong to several organizations that have switched most of their communications to cyberspace.

Invitations to public events are usually available in print on paper because they have to be posted on bulletin boards in local libraries. But messages to members are increasingly confined to email. Without an old person like me or some of my contemporaries, members who do not own a computer or use email can be overlooked.

I consider it my civic duty to act as a sort of Paul Revere. It’s not “The British are Coming” but “The meeting is next Tuesday at 6 o’clock.”

A close friend and I are part of a fast-disappearing minority who actually proofread our emails before we send them out. We also write emails in standard English sentences. And we do not text!

But whole generations are growing up who communicate in code. I haven’t the faintest idea what they are tapping out to each other. And, as Rhett would have said, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a...” – well you get the idea.

They are always tapping. They bring their diabolical little devices into the most inappropriate places (would you believe Saturday morning religious services at synagogues?). They walk down the street staring at their iPods – and God protect the poor souls walking toward them!

They even text on dates in restaurants. I wonder if those texts go to their dinner partners or the people they wish they were dining with. They seem to exist more in cyberspace than in the physical space they occupy.

So they miss the birds and the trees, the cityscapes and countrysides they are passing through. But more than that, they miss us. Because someday relatively soon, we – their grandparents, aunts and uncles, or friends of the family – will not be around to share with them.

I hope that young man walking toward me but only seeing his iPod has a good relationship with his grandmother. Or that the girl with the wires in her ears has listened to vintage rock ‘n' roll with relatives who were there at its inception. Otherwise, our generations will be gone, and they will never know what they have missed.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Couldn't have said it better!

Just returned from a walk down a wooded lane. Lots of wildflowers, a few birds, and several squirrels made it pleasant. Not an Ipad in sight! What a relief.

What a treat to read your well-written, well-proofed, and edited (no doubt) essay.Will any of our youth be able to do that? I doubt it! I belonged for a time to an online women's writing blog.Lovely women, mostly under 40 or 50,and hardly a one (maybe 4 out of 30)wrote flawless blogs--not even one who claimed she had a degree in English. And even the best of them often used its or it's incorrectly, or my other pet grammar peeve--"he and I" after a preposition where it should be him and me. I don't have a lot of formal education, but have had 3 books published, and I learned by reading voraciously all of my life (81 years), then using Strunk & White, as well as the Chicago Manual of Style to fill in the gaps in my learning.
Thanks so much for your blog. I, too, bemoan the state of our next generations' ability to communicate.You can see that I've never learned brevity!

Well all of us are in our "latter" years. I am so grateful I was born before all this tech, and have a great appreciation for what is about to become extinct. Something beautiful is about to die. It is called grace.

Right on about "...our descent into purgatory has been accelerated." I too proofread emails before I send them and use standard English, although I sometimes use short or incomplete sentences for effect.

In fact, I've often noticed how well-written the stories are in Elder Storytelling are. There's so much delicious detail and creative use of language. They're a pleasure to read--sometimes funny, sometimes surprising, sometimes philosophical. I think it's because we learned to write back in the day.

Thank you, Bettijane.

Oops, I didn't proofread the last line in the second paragraph carefully enough.

I too am in my latter years and I am grateful for all the new technology. It enables me to read a book from the library when it is below zero and I do not want to go out. It allows me to keep track of family members when they are far away and busy with their own lives. I have several blogs I read daily (like this one) about things I am interested in. Such as photography, gardening,wildlife, and people who are going through some of the same life changes I am and are willing to let the world know how they are dealing with it. I have an encyclopedia at my fingertips where I can look up anything I want to know in a few minutes. If I become disabled, I will still be able to communicate across the world. On the other hand, I do not have a "smart phone". I do have a cell phone but I have never given out the number and do not intend to do so. It is for when I need to contact someone and I am not at home. It is not the "tech" that is at fault but the way it is used. Young people tend to go overboard (and so do some who should know better). Any tool can be dangerous. It is up to the user to use it well.

Madeleine Kolb notes above:

"In fact, I've often noticed how well-written the stories are in Elder Storytelling are."

I've been publishing people's stories on this blog for going on eight years and I, too, am pleased at how well written they are.

My editing touch is extremely light - to correct obvious typos, occasional mismatched subjects and verbs, small cleanups for clarity and a few others to conform to the ESP style sheet.

In the past 20-30 years, it has been hard to avoid noticing falling test scores in all subjects including English.

I suspect our teachers a long time ago just did a better job of cramming the language into us than is done today and that greater importance was attached to good writing by everyone, not just professionals, in those day.

The situation is sad, but it is the way of the future. I try to keep up with technology and use it to my advantage even though you might classify me as older. I do not want to be left behind. I may be old, but I know how to learn and I will try to keep up with the youngsters around me as much as I can. I can be nostalgic for good things lost, but I want to be part of the present. I think if someone from 1914 would step into our current world he would think he was on another planet. And if we could somehow fast forward to 2114 we would hardly recognize anything familiar. Your quote from ancient Egypt is true in every generation.

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