Thursday, July 12, 2012

Changing with technology

My first job when I left college was answering salesmen's calls and writing down the numbers they dictated to me. When I told my kids, they laughed, as if I told them I had been a scrivener. (Remember Bartleby by Herman Melville? People still read books, right?)

Technology seems to be changing lives more quickly now than when I was younger. When he was small, one of my children believed the world had been in black-and-white because the old TV shows taught him that (color was invented in the '60's, I think).

Like my first job, activities are rapidly becoming obsolete. I no longer wait for my credit card statements in the mail. I hardly ever write checks. I text my kids when dinner is ready instead of calling to them. I'm waiting for the app that does laundry. That would be amazing.

When my husband and I went plant-shopping, I got out my phone to take notes on the descriptions and care of shrubs. He got out his phone and took pictures of the descriptions. I guess he won.

Remember, Karen, when you were overseas and the only way I could contact you was to write on a thin, blue piece of paper? I'm guessing technology has changed your life at least as much as mine. What have you experienced?

Ah, yes, those thin, blue pieces of paper. Aerogrammes: and I could fit more words on one of those, all in the name of economy. At my feet is a bag with 2 manila envelopes bursting with those very items. My mom saved every letter I ever wrote her while I was in college and in Africa. Now I am teetering on the blade: keep them? toss them? what do I do with all those memories?  Fast forward: I'm a mom of college kids and technology has changed my world. I don't have a single letter from either of them. They text me. Or email. No piles of ancient mss for them to deal with in the future.

Back in the day, it took six weeks for me to get an answer from my folks. Three weeks each way. Now I find out if Isabel's work schedule has changed on the very day it happens. Over the years I have found out weeks/months after the fact that my uncle or cousin has died. On Monday I heard (via Facebook ) that my best South African friend lost her husband on Saturday night. 

That kind of change means that Africa isn't the same place I arrived in back in 1977, fresh out of college. Back then, Africans missed funerals, too, because they had no quick communication. Now with cell phones, they find out and make their sojourns. (No one in Africa misses a funeral if he can help it.)

Interestingly, Africa has leap-frogged quite a bit of technology. People who live in huts without water and electricity will never deal with landlines, they have cell phones. They will never struggle with antennas for tv reception, they watch DVDs. They have no need to read books, they go straight to video.

One hugely difficult decision in packing for Africa was: which books do I take? I'm a bookaholic. Now I have hundreds in my iPhone and iPod and don't wrestle with that at all. Believe it or not, when I went to Swaziland the first time, I hauled a reel to reel tape recorder so I could listen to music. To say nothing of those miles of tape. Smile.

And as for movies: you only saw them in theaters, once. Unless you were very extravagant. Now you can rent, buy, or download them. They are yours as long as you want to bother to watch them.

Most of these changes focus on entertainment and communication--making my life easier and more convenient. I think that has numbed me to what it does to my self: lulling me into thinking I ought to have convenience.

How can I exploit this technology to build the Kingdom of Heaven in Cape Town or wherever I end up? That will take more thought. I remember Dad telling about how he knew God made him an engineer, but could not imagine how God could possibly use an engineer in missions. He struggled with that. Before he died he built five Christian radio stations around the world. If I struggle, I might figure it out, too.


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