Last night a friend was over and while we caught up on the last 2 episodes of Poldark, we played a game of some sort on her touch screen phone. This morning, as I was waking up with a fresh cup of coffee, sitting in a comfortable chair , I held an iPad, one of those small touch-screen things, and by tapping with my finger in various places on the screen, was able to read an excerpt from a book by Charles Spurgeon, check email sent by an assortment of people who wanted me to buy their stuff, and read short statements posted on Facebook by people with whom I have chosen to be in contact. Shortly after that, by handheld wireless phone the size of a deck of cards chimed. It was a friend wanting to know a good time for her to come over this morning. Right now I am tapping on a keyboard (the wireless iPad thing touch screen is fine for short statements, but I prefer the big and real feeling of a genuine keyboard for such as this), reading the words I type on an electronic screen. The device I am using to do this work is roughly the size of a notebook, and the screen is about 1-1/2 times bigger. Not only can I use it for typing things, it can be used to designing artwork that is, with the touch of a spot on the screen with an arrow guided by the heat of my hand on a patch at the bottom of the keyboard, is sent t a little device plugged into the side of the keyboard that is about the size of my thumb, which is then removed and plugged into the side of my sewing machine, and that information tells the machine where to position a hoop, as it stitches the design I drew on the computer, using the heat of my hand.
Think about all that. From the use of a piece of burned wood to make marks on a piece of thin bark peeled from a tree we have progressed to using the heat of our hand to move a thing that is essentially just an idea and has no ‘real’ connection (like wires) to anything. The heat of our hand, ideas, waves flying around in the air, and yet somehow we have managed to organize it all into something that functions and conveys ideas all over the world. I can, in an instant the speed of light, pass an idea on to a friend on the other side of our planet, and she can respond as quickly. I can have a desire for something (say, school supplies for #4), use my computer (not connected with wires or anything to anything else) to go to a place I have never seen, named after a river in South America, look around for the school supplies, ask them to send them to me and “pay” for them, using a number connected to a bank, where other numbers are regularly added to an account number associated with my name, those are numbers generated by a larger number in some place I have never seen, because himself bought a number many years ago and gave some of his numbers monthly to a numbered account, that promised to give me a bunch of numbers in the event Himself died and was unable to get numbers based on performance at a place that swapped numbers for labor. They call those numbers “money” but the truth is, I have never actually held anything more than a piece of paper once in a while that said “here, this is how many numbers you have.”
And yet, somehow, the device on my table converts commands based on where I hit the screen with my finger into an idea conveyed to people all over the world. Somehow the numbers work out to an ability to pay an electric bill that allows the devices to function, gas to make a car go (at least I can understand how THAT works), and being able to get in that car, go to the store and purchase food to eat.
Yeah, all that really impresses me. Sometimes it is confusing, and the desire to RETRENCH!, move to the country and grow my own stuff is intense. I think this is why I so deeply prefer to barter. I can understand how making a dress for this person in exchange for milk and eggs works. She has chickens, I have skills. Even steven.
My kids kind of think it’s a little silly, possibly even bordering on becoming a Luddite. I am not opposed to all this new stuff. I recognize it’s benefits (I am, after all, sitting here enjoying them right now). I just don’t quite understand how it all works. The numbers thing, sure I get that. Combine it with all the wireless computers and stuff, and how all those waves in the air (another thing I don’t quite grasp. I’ll never be a physisis…phhysacist…one of those guys who studies waveforms and such) are successfully sorted out and go to their proper places. I love that I can write a letter and send it to a person half a world away and it gets there in moments. Of course, a little something is lost in there, you don’t have this satisfying stuff to hold in your hands…but then back in the day mail didn’t exist either, so I am ok with the evolution of communication…it’s just that sometimes it is sad to see things with which you are so familiar change.
Maybe that’s why I like cooking over wood and gas so much. You can see the heat source and understand where it comes from. That’s right, even regular old electricity kind of baffles me. I sort of get it, something about electrons and wires and conductivity, but that’s about the extent of my understanding.
No, I leave the understanding of touch-pads and wireless networks the like to my son, who is studying electrical engineering and gets this stuff the way I understand biscuit recipes and herb combinations. It pleases me that such things as these exist. I love being able to touch my screen a few times and have a box full of school supplies brought to my doorstep 2 days later. The logistics of getting something made in a country halfway around the world here to East Notmuch, Georgia and having it the precise thing that was asked for…that’s pretty cool, too! And all in exchange for some of my numbers moved over into a pile of numbers managed by some person who has a computer somewhere else.
It really is a small world, and, in spite of my confusion with it all, it is a wonderful place and time we are living in. Now if we could all just behave decently and tend to our own numbers….