HALL: Tolerating modern technology | Opinion

I would have enjoyed some aspects of being a cave person. Tend the fire, smell like an ox, have terrible manners and simply throw trash on the ground. I wouldn’t have to deal with global warming because there would be no thermometers, and I could blame bad weather on some god or other. Tax day would be meaningless. In my spare time, I might draw graffiti on the cave walls, and nobody would say I was damaging the pristine nature of the cave. Planning for the future would seem silly.

Nowadays, people are social animals. We meet with our fellows and exchange gossip. The rumors and facts we get from group interactions are helpful in dealing with society and nature. We say the springtime weather is colder than usual, the Great Lakes are lower than they were, and Pentwater channel is too shallow for many boats. Housing prices are going way up, and rumors about the future of energy systems vary widely. Gas prices dropped because the government released some of its reserve fuel. Some say that will cause inflation, and we’ll all suffer, others say that’s OK. If we suffer later, it’ll only be like a hangover, it’s a sign that we had a good time earlier.

Except when it comes to politics or superstitions, we really have very few cave person attitudes left.

But there are things going on that are new and difficult to tolerate. Some of the modern conveniences also create modern difficulties. I got a new cell phone and many of the things it can do are wonderful, but getting those things to work consistently is pretty much of a wonder, too. It can take days to learn how to take just one photo when the phone wants to take several. When using it to navigate on the nation’s highways, it’s a great help, until I decide to change destinations and stop for lunch. Then I struggle to convince the tiny lady in the phone to find some food.

But it’s all possible. Other people can make their phones cooperate, so giving up is not an option. That would make me a quitter, and admitting that is an ego-bruiser. So it becomes necessary to get professional advice from a phone-fixing guru, and once she or he has solved the problem, probably in three minutes, life is good again.

When technology cooperates, it’s like springtime has come to the cave, the world is full of great possibilities, and the bats that live near the back are happy that mosquitoes have returned and are available for dinner. But then a thing called an upgrade happens, like a late-season blizzard, and the phone becomes ornery again. Each time this happens, I am helped by friends or professionals to overcome the latest evil. They too have suffered upgrades, and know that when the systems they depend on change overnight, they too must change.

Of course, there are other changes that are hard to adapt to. COVID was awful, and arriving at the best way to battle it was a matter of response by wearing masks, and later by vaccinating. Defensive measures kept changing, thanks to progress, and some people still claim that nothing works.

I have trouble adapting to the divisions in our society, divisions created for seemingly petty reasons. Social media is often blamed for creating problems, from minor ones to a whole galaxy of big new ones. Technology can display some human’s fantasy as real, and social media spreads it everywhere. It doesn’t create evil, people do. Complaining about problems doesn’t eliminate them. Laws might be written to control what’s done, but they are extremely difficult to write and enforce and still maintain freedom.

So what can we do? I’d like to go back to the cave, to crawl out of sight and be anonymous. To hide my email address and other data. And that seems impossible to do.

It’s depressing to distrust the world, but we’re trending that way. People misunderstand each other, frequently on purpose. The best defense might be humor. Puns make fun of double meanings, and train us to listen for them. Get a laugh, don’t get misled.

Isobel necessary on a bicycle?

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