August 7, 2018

Do gadgets make us smarter or dumber?

(Note: This column is from April 7, 2010, when I was on the front-side of 60.  Now that I’m on the backside of 60, my opinion on this subject hasn’t changed.)
     “Trust your car to the man with the Texaco star,” was the motto.  Even though I was just 12 years old, I had the star on my starched uniform, and that meant folks were expected to trust me, too, at Pope’s Texaco on U.S. 301 North in Jesup. 
     And bless Cora Pope’s heart, she didn’t need a computerized cash register to tell how much change she owed her customers.  One of my first training exercises was how to handle money.  And if I had substituted “no problem” for “you are welcome,” I would have been sent to scrub the restrooms, again and again, until I learned better manners.   
     Mrs. Pope handled money the old-fashioned way.  She counted it aloud into her patron’s hand.  And you never put his money into the drawer until he nodded or said, “That’s right.”  When’s the last time a sales clerk counted your money as he placed it into your hand? 
     Better yet, how many times are you handed change and a receipt while the clerk is talking over his shoulder to someone else or yakking on the phone?  No eye contact.  No thank you.  And Lord help you if the power blinks and the electronic cash register dies.  The simple money exchange becomes Mission Impossible. 
     Remember when the electronic calculator appeared?  In the early 1970s, we sold them in our office supply store for two or three hundred dollars.  Now you get them for free in the mail.  But ask someone to do a little figuring.  If he doesn’t have a calculator to do the thinking, you may never get the answer.  And he looks at you as if you just asked him to scale Mount Everest, barefoot.
     Back in the Pope’s Texaco era, did you ever listen to Gloria Strickland run an adding machine at Wayne State Bank?  A Gatlin gun couldn’t have fired any faster.
     Every generation gets a little more exposed to new technology and information, so we should be getting smarter, don’t you think?  Probably.  But when I ordered a dozen donuts, the counter person turned to her associate and asked, “Is 12 a dozen?”
     Have we gotten so dependent on gadgets that we can’t think for ourselves?
     I am a fan of Global Positioning Systems, but they aren’t perfect.  You still need to be savvy or you might get sent around your elbow to get to your backside.  With a GPS in my dashboard and one on my cell phone, I still don’t leave home without an assortment of maps.  The battery never fails on the paper directions.  But when was the last time you saw someone younger than 40 pull a map out of his glove box?
     I am not a Gadget Guy, but I work hard not to be too curmudgeonly.  That’s why I sample new stuff.  I read a few books, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times on my electronic reader, a Kindle.  I like the real thing better, but I’m game.
     Now, I’ve stepped into the deep waters of the technozone, experimenting with the latest touch-screen phone with enough applications to do everything except preach Cora Pope’s sermons on customer service.
     I’m not from the Nintendo Generation, so it takes me a while to grasp this gadgetry. That’s why one of my daily prayers is: “Lord, please give me patience…and I need it right now.”