The time: last night, about 9:30 p.m. B, the librarian, is doing something in the kitchen when she calls out to me, "Is it about time to walk the dog?"
I am sitting comfortably in my recliner reading a book. My shoes are off. I'm getting toward the end of The Oregon Trial by Rinker Buck, who a few years ago bought three mules and a wagon and set out with his brother and his brother's terrier, Olive Oyl, to recreate a 19th-century pioneer voyage from Missouri to Oregon.
I look up from the page, then back down, where Buck is skidding precariously down the side of a cliff in Wyoming, about to tip the wagon over into a gulch.
"Come on, Tom," the librarian calls out again.
I'd think a librarian would be more understanding of my need to at least finish this chapter. So, thinking myself clever, I call out to my librarian, the proud owner of a new smartphone: "Hey, isn't there an app for that?"
Needless to say, about 30 seconds later I was off the Oregon Trail and out the door, leash in hand, taking the dog down the driveway.
But as I walked the dog in the chilly night I began to wonder: How much has technology actually improved our lives? After all, there's no app for walking the dog.
Okay, I could have been reading The Oregon Trail on a kindle or other electronic device. But it would have been the same story. And besides, I wasn't using my kindle. I'd gotten the book the old-fashioned way. I'd borrowed it from our local library.
Later, getting ready for bed, I made my usual ablutions in the bathroom. And I recognized that the typical middle class bathroom has not changed a bit in my entire lifetime. The same toilet, the same toilet paper, the same faucet and sink and medicine cabinet. The style might be slightly different; but otherwise these items are no different from those found in the bathroom when I was a little kid in the 1950s.
So how much has technology really changed out lives? How much progress have we really made?
Granted, we carry around a smartphone and can text and email and access the internet at a moment's notice. But when we actually do make a phone call, the connection was really better on our old land line. And what do most people do with their smartphone when they're waiting in line or sitting on the bus or train? They are playing Candy Crush or Words with Friends. Other than being electronic, these games are not all that much different from the Chutes and Ladders and Scrabble we played as kids.
My car has air bags and other safety features. But other than that, is it much different from the car I drove 50 years ago? You still fill up the gas tank at the service station, get in, start the car, and use the steering wheel to roll four petro-tires down the road at 60 mph. Well, there's one difference. There's no service at the service station. Oh, and another. The traffic is worse!
Admittedly, when I was a teenager our car did not even have a radio. But we hung a small transistor on the little handle of the front vent window (remember those?). And boy, I recall having a lot more fun listening to The Rolling Stones belt out "Satisfaction" back in 1965 than I do today sedately listening to Sara Bareilles warbling on my fancy new XM radio.
I don't want to sound like an old curmudgeon. I do love my laptop, and I love email, and I love google. I'm just not completely enamored with the smartphone. If only there was an app to walk the dog . . .