Remembering the future
Los Osos, Calif.
Well, aren’t we special! To hear the talking heads on TV you’d think we were all super heroes for having survived the computer revolution. I swear, we’re turning into a nation of sissies. We’re supposed to feel sorry for deeply indebted college graduates who are suffering so much they’ve had to move back in with their parents. But I really doubt their suffering is on par with the young men sent to storm the beaches at Normandy, or the teenagers who spent two years in the killing fields of Vietnam.
We’ve been here before folks. Can you imagine the changes in society when Americans switched from the horse and buggy to the automobile? The only difference is the junk collected along the way. Today’s information superhighway is littered with spam, junk mail and Nigerian princes while their dirt roads were littered with rocks, hoboes and horse apples.
It’s amazing how similar the car/computer revolutions are. I get the same confused look on my face when I stare inside my MacBook as I did when I first popped the hood on our family’s Delta 88. A century ago folks cussed their horses and Model T’s just as we cuss computer calls and Microsoft Windows. We speak in bits and bytes while they geed, hawed and giddiupped. We feel so superior because we can buy a pair of boxer shorts online. No sirree, no previous generation has so successfully dealt with such unprecedented challenges!
I say horsefeathers! There was a day when Americans traded horseshoers for mechanics, horse traders for used car salesmen, and the smell of horses for the smell of diesel. The car made most horse equipment useless so now you see vintage horse collars holding mirrors. Will one day desktop computers do the same?
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History repeats itself, only the names change. The computer made it possible for hackers, cable companies, Wall Street and Amazon to take a good chunk of your change just as the switch to cars made it possible for Olds, Ford, Chevrolet and John D. Rockefeller to do the same.
One hundred years ago, Americans bought stock and underwear from Sears and JC Penney but now investors can’t seem to get their money, or their butts, out of Sears and Penneys fast enough. Apple and Amazon are now the place to be. Today we have Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, back then it was Henry Ford, Ransom Olds, the Chevrolet and Dodge brothers. We go to Costco once a month while they hitched up the wagon for the monthly trip to the general store and I bet they were just as awed and excited by all the fancy new products they saw as we are today.
No one knows more than I do how the computer revolution has devastated some industries. You can’t hardly find a milk man, newspaper delivery boy, telephone operator, or a typesetter anywhere. Being a syndicated newspaper columnist I am reminded almost weekly that the newspaper business isn’t exactly a growth industry. Just as their ranks shrunk so too did most whip makers, carriage drivers and blacksmiths. Some day kids will laugh at the taxi cab, television set, Post Office, internal combustion engine and the Geek Squad for being so out of date, just as we did the wringer washer, ice cube trays and the hi-fi.
Sure, it saddens me to see all the old professions nearly vanish. I became quite melancholy when the Sears closest to my home closed its doors. But you can bet your bottom dollar some day it will be Amazon and Apple’s turn to go broke. Just as old and tired carriage horses were put out to pasture some day so too will television sets and desktop computers. Nearly every generation has a “going out of business” sale.
Americans will always complain about the times in which they live. In the horse and buggy era Americans complained about rocky roads and horse pucky, just as I complain about potholes and people who talk on their smart phone in the grocery store. But I think it sounds sorta ridiculous in an age where our toilet paper is quilted and our butts are heated to complain how tough times are. Not for one minute do I want to go back to using the Sears catalog, if you even know what I mean? ❖
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