September 12, 2008
Thanks to computers and technology people are forgetting how to do things they used to routinely do. Writers have forgotten how to spell, draftsmen have forgotten how to draw and clerks have forgotten how to count back change. I was in a craft store the other day, the computers went down and the line at the register backed up because the clerk was totally helpless. I asked her if she couldn’t just add up my items and I’d pay her and she replied in a smart-aleck manner, “Now, how would I do that?”
To which I replied, “Don’t they still make paper and those pencil thingies?”
I see this phenomenon of forgetting how we used to do things all the time and I’ve even given a name to it: functional amnesia. Just last week my neighbor wanted to know if I had a space heater and some ice he could borrow. I’ve made it a point never to loan ice to anyone because you never get it back in the same shape it was when you loaned it out. But I did loan him a heater. Since it was 100 degrees outside I was curious as to why he needed both heat and ice. He said it was because his ice maker broke, water soaked his carpet and he needed to dry it out. As for the ice, he was very upset about not having any ice for cocktail hour and was demoralized about the prospect of drinking warm vodka. He didn’t know what he was going to do! I swear, he looked like he’d had a revelation from God when I handed him some ice cube trays and gave him instructions on how to make ice cubes the way we used to do.
In many instances we have improved things to the point of hopelessness. I was in an airport the other day and I couldn’t help overhearing a very angry computer repairman attempting to explain to a client how to fix his computer. I know all of this because everyone in the building could hear him talking on his cell phone. Evidently it was a bad connection and the frustrated technician was getting more angry by the moment. By my count he had to call back three times. Totally exasperated, the technician finally told the client he’d have to call him back later when he could get a better connection. Then he closed his cell phone and put it in his briefcase which was sitting on the shelf of a pay phone!
Functional amnesia is nothing knew. Over a hundred years ago there was a man named Don Diego who lived in the small town of Nipomo, California. I read about Don Diego in a book written five decades ago called The Blond Ranchero by Juan Francisco Dana. Juan was related to another much more famous Dana, Richard Henry, who wrote Two Years Before the Mast. (I liked Juan’s book better!) Anyway, Don Diego was a rancher and like most progressive cattlemen he had to have the latest technology, which in this case, was a cigarette lighter. Oh yes, they had cigarette lighters 100 years ago, although they looked nothing like the Bic you flip today. They were merely long tubes of glass filled with fuel and a cotton cord wound tightly in the bottom which extended up through the top of the tube. When you needed a light you’d pull a little of the cord up through the top of the tube, light it with a flint and then use it to light your cigarette or cigar. These days it may sound like a lot of work but cigarette lighters were a status symbol and the richer you were, the fancier your lighter was.
As was his custom, just before he went to sleep Don Diego lay in his bed, rolled a cigarette and tried to light the cigarette lighter. If the cord was new sometimes those old lighters could be hard to light and no matter what Don Diego did, it would not hold a flame. Don Diego grew increasingly frustrated, just like the man with the cell phone and the clerk in the store, and he finally gave up on his much-anticipated evening smoke. The discouraged Don Diego figured that God did not wish him to smoke that night and so he put down his lighter with disgust, saved his tobacco and blew out the CANDLE that sat on his night stand.
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