The perils and promise of the text
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, January 14, 2016


It’s probably just a standard generational thing, i.e. cultural and/or scientific advances making elders uncomfortable. I recall an old family tale about visiting relatives, staying at a modern motel, lighting the gas lamp thinking it was an oil lamp. Part of the family tree, gone!

For our parents, the uncomfortable time was probably the ‘60s, which made perfect sense to me but, as I look back, did seem to disorient the Greatest Generation. Yet I can’t imagine anyone being more disconcerted than I was last week listening to a “talk radio” discussion among parents about trying to handle/control their children’s use of electronic devices.

They shared advice on setting rules and limits, with some children seeming to be addicted to their smartphones and social media. Understood: My generation was on the phone with its friends, after school, in the evening, as parents complained. (See the 1961 Broadway musical, “Bye Bye Birdie.”) Then a father called in with this story:

He was just divorced and knowing it had been hard on his children, he took them to Disneyland for Christmas. The younger boy seemed to enjoy himself, but his teenage daughter spent much of the vacation on her device: while waiting in line for rides, at dinner instead of sharing the day’s thrills.

Nothing you say can make me understand this. When I was a teenager, I dreamed of going to Disneyland, in California, a country away from Pennsylvania. Didn’t mention it because I knew my family couldn’t afford that kind of vacation. A friend who did go there said it was just like a large carnival, nothing special, kind of dusty (probably an early version of some kind of ‘50s “global warming” causing drought conditions like those California is experiencing now).

This brush-off made me feel better for years, until I actually visited the Magic Kingdom and realized that there are people who can’t see the magic anywhere and will always be unimpressed by it. Same type visited Paris and said the natives were unfriendly; visited Venice and told me it smelled bad. That’s it? That’s all you noticed about two of the great cities of the world? (My later experience was friendly Parisians and no unusual Venetian scents.)

So there we were, in 1968, a Navy family based in Long Beach, with military discount tickets to Disneyland. My 4-year-old son enjoyed it enormously, but not as much as I did. Large carnival? Only in the sense that the Pacific Ocean is a large pond. Maybe by then the dust had been paved over, or it was the southern California rainy season, but I remember Disneyland as one of the cleanest, best-maintained places I’ve ever been.

Standing in line was itself great fun; the lines were set up in lanes so they don’t seem too long, as you talked with the other excited tourists waiting on both sides of you. Your children talked with the other children about plans for more rides after this one. In my wildest nightmares I can’t imagine chatting on the phone or texting someone who wasn’t there while waiting, otherwise bored, to visit Adventure Land or worse, playing video games or whatever is on those devices.

OK, small time-out here to appreciate my grandchildren texting me as they travel and my son preparing a smartphone video for my grandson’s ski-team run at Tahoe or my granddaughter’s speech in the school play; that’s different. Yay, technology!

Years later, visiting Disney World with a pilot friend who met me there, I was just as excited, not about Cinderella’s castle, but the chance to visit other countries and see exciting scientific advances at Epcot. Every moment carried the thrill of awareness of the Disney Magic.

What if all the memories of my life were of talking to someone on the phone and time spent on an electronic device?

On the other hand, I imagine being handicapped or never able to afford a trip to one of the Disney sites, Paris or Venice: the new virtual realities give everyone a chance to travel. This is wonderful. But it’s not the point of the father talking about his Christmas trip on the radio. Advice included taking the device away from the addicted child for much of the day. “Who paid for it?” someone asked.

I think that might work if the parent is paying for the operating minutes. Yet, even from the ‘50s, we can recall a child having a tantrum at the carnival if he doesn’t get his way about something. Not pretty.

Well, that’s all I can really discuss about modern technology, since I’ve avoided learning its language, shame on me. I do Facebook but just the elemental postings; have more than 1,000 friends and hundreds of friend requests that I don’t have time to check out, so anyone can visit for political discussion.

Here’s where it gets embarrassing. In last week’s column, I reached out to my congressman, Seth Moulton, with a heads-up on something I’d just learned about the Veterans Administration not funding in-vitro fertilization for injured warriors. The day after it appeared, a Salem News reporter called me to say that Seth Moulton had tweeted me that he got the message and had just signed on to a bill funding these benefits.

I got a tweet? From my congressman? Now what?

Somewhere around here is a copy of “Tweeting for Dummies” that I’ve avoided reading. Never mind. If Congressman Moulton is reading this column: Thank you.

New technology. Devices. Good, as long as not overdone, becoming addictive. I admit I’ve spent a lot of real time on earth with other kinds of escapism, reading novels and watching television. Appreciate being able to do research for my column using Google, love texting my family. New Year’s resolution: Learn to tweet.

Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is a weekly columnist for the Salem News and Eagle-Tribune Publishing Company.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

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