Communication in Changing Times

As one who has developed new technologies in education for some fifty years, I’m pretty aware of how communications have changed and have changed our expectations and behaviors. Well, they’ve changed for some of us more than others, and in different ways for different individuals.

When I was a kid in Phoenix, 1946-54, we would go outside to play for hours at a time. Our mothers didn’t know where we were, and had no way to get in touch with us, nor we with our mothers. For example, my friend John Lucking and I would, when were 9 to 11 years old, ride our bikes out into the desert to explore, to go to Camelback Mountain, to just see what we could see. We could also ride our bikes a couple miles to the swimming pool and spend several hours there. No one took us, no one worried about us, we’d get home when we were tired or hungry. We also dug tunnels to China in an undeveloped square block that was overgrown with brush, painted ourselves with mulberry juice, and did other “kid things”. No cell phones. Usually no money to use a pay phone if one were available, which they weren’t in most of the places we went.

In junior high in Des Moines (54-58) my friend Rick and I would go to all night movies downtown. We’d get the last bus downtown, after walking a mile to the bus stop from one of our houses. We’d see the Saturday midnight triple movie feature of monster/horror/science fiction flicks, and at 430 or 500 when they were over we’d walk a couple blocks to the all night drugstore to get some breakfast before catching the first bus home, that left downtown at 530. We’d get to his house, grab a wagon, get his Sunday papers and deliver them on his route. After that we might crash at his house, or I’d get a bus home. No contact, no worry.

When I was in high school it was the same thing. Although I didn’t have a car, many friends did, and we’d go to the drive-in movie, go cruising, go to the drive-in restaurant, go hang out at various houses, and so forth. No cell phones. Generally we could have made a phone call if necessary from where we were. But for many hours Mom didn’t know exactly where I was or when I’d be back. When we went on dates if there was a curfew it was set by the girls’ parents, not by us. After we took girls home we might go out to eat or hang out at someone’s house or an all night restaurant.

When I was in college I was always away from home and Mom would hear from me on the expensive long distance phone once a month or so, and might get a letter in the US Mail about as often. I lived a pretty independent life. Even when I got married, my wives and I always were, and are, pretty independent. Both of us worked. Both of us had outside hobbies and interests. We would generally know who was going to be picking up a child, or some rough idea of when someone might be home, but again we had no cell phones or internet to communicate. There might be a message on an answering machine or there might not.

Gail and I still live that way today, despite having had no wired phones in this century. We keep in touch, but only as necessary, when we’re apart. We’re secure and we don’t worry, just as Mom didn’t worry about me when I was younger.

Despite having all of the latest internet toys (MacBook Air, iPad4, iPhone5), my phone is silenced at least half of the time. I’m not a slave to it.  I don’t do much multitasking, other than having TV on while I’m on the computer, and always have the computer and iPad silenced. I don’t need or want a beep every time a new email, Facebook posting, or tweet arrives. I rarely tweet, but generally use 4square for fun, mainly to find out about new and interesting places to go, and also for friendly competition among some friends. We don’t have a chat plan on our phones, and only use it on rare occasions, especially because we pay for all messages sent and received. When I’m out and can do so I do surf the web on the iPhone.

Maybe it is because my tired old brain can only handle so much at once, but I think it is more because distractions keep me from thinking clearly or getting anything done. I learned how distracting those things could be when I was still working and we experimented with some of the first “news notification services”, which amounted to a twitter feed of news, with a new story every minute or so.

Maybe I’m really getting to be a crusty old curmudgeon who can’t deal with the modern world. I like to think that I’m an old guy who’s smart enough to control the technology instead of letting it control my life.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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