On Saturday mornings in 1968, I sat cross-legged in the family room, spooning Frosted Flakes into my mouth and watching “The Jetsons.” It was hilarious made-up stuff. The mom cooked supper by pushing a button. The kids didn't walk, they just stood on a moveable floor. The family had three televisions: a huge flat one for shows, a smaller one that was really a telephone (you could see the person’s face!) and one that told you anything you wanted to know anytime, anywhere.
In 1988 I sat in a roomful of graduate students, discussing whether or not we should get one of those new Apple computers. One guy had one. “It’s worth it,” he said; “I get my papers done a lot faster.” A few weeks later, my husband bought one, and the only thing I didn’t like about it was the name of the small gray piece you had to touch: the mouse.
Now I’m tapping away on a sleek little device as small as a comic book, writing an essay that will be available to anyone who has a similar device. Theirs might even be smaller than a mouse. With Jetson-esque efficiency, I touch a button: an immediate worldwide audience! (Joe in Madrid, are you reading? Samira in Qatar, have you seen my blog? Rose in Beijing, message me, ok?).
On my computer I save time and waste it. I check up on friends. I look up recipes (no need to call Mom). I solve household disputes (my husband was right, you can’t put pens in the recycling). I shop for furniture. Found a great area rug, great price, but it took longer than a flight to Persia; there were thousands of choices to scroll through.
Scroll. A word that has lost its romance. Like cloud. Search. Friend. Follow. Even cut and paste have suffered. Now they mean efficiency. But for that cross-legged kid, it was the happy opposite: construction paper, hand-drawn cutouts, small blunt scissors, globs of glue thick as frosting. Painstaking art, smeared and crooked, meticulous and tangible.
Despite today’s efficiency, I’m always behind. My kids laugh at my ignorance. I used to snap at them for not standing still for a photo; now they chide me for forgetting how to upload one. They shake their heads at the sad sight of me typing into Google What is a search engine? At least they admit that adults can now be on Facebook without being “stalkers.” But they scold me for wasting time on it. I wonder if, subconsciously, they would prefer to see me quilting, penning a letter with ink, opening a sauce-stained cookbook.
I work as a substitute teacher, and internet can be a real help. But a real pain, too. Yes, students are “working on their essays” with sleek Chromebooks. The data is at their fingertips (poking every which way; according to MITtechnologyreview.com schools no longer teach typing). But when my back is turned, the rascals click over to Youtube and watch videos like “20 Hilarious Skateboard Fails” (61K views, btw). Of the students actually working, most wear earplugs because they “can’t concentrate without music.”
So I deliver my old folks lecture: “Do you kids ever even stop to think about the wonder of a square piece of plastic or whatever metals are in those things, I mean the fact that you can actually contact someone right now in Budapest and even see their face which is thousands of miles away? DO YOU APPRECIATE WHAT’S GOING ON HERE? When I was in school….”
(It’s 6,261, btw. Round trip on American Airlines, $890).
Sometimes I wonder, Is anybody laughing? We’re all going around saying “Google this, google that, I googled, he googled, try googling.” That six year old would have snorted milk right out her nostrils if people started talking like that. Now otherwise sane adults share their googles without ever cracking a smile.
I did some research. I wanted to know if George Jetson had any books. If he ever heard the rustle of pages, felt a nubby cloth binding, threw on a ratty cardigan, placed logs on a fire. If the techno world around him ever turned off, ever felt like anything but cold steel. Unfortunately I don’t have time to watch all eighty-eight hours of episodes available on Youtube, so I’ll never know.
But I do remember how each show ended. Funny George always got caught on his own treadmill. He would holler, “Help! Help! Stop this crazy thing!” I liked that part but eventually stopped laughing because I got used to it, week after week after week.