(3 reasons why I haven’t posted in over two weeks:
1) amy’s home from CA for winter break, and being that she’s one of my only known daily readers, I don’t have her motivating me to make sure I post something for her to read every morning while she's teaching
2) the holidays
3) parents gave me the Lost DVDS (seasons 1 and 2), and I’ve become addicted)
so i started writing the following post several weeks ago....here it goes:
"You would kill me if you knew what I'm doing right now in order to talk to you," Amy said to me over the phone.
"Oh no. What?" I ask. Amy has been one of my best friends since first grade. She lives in Sunnyvale, CA now as a Teach For America teacher in East Palo Alto. Despite the time difference, we find time to talk early in the morning. By the time I get home from driving Max to school, she's getting ready to head to school herself.
"I'm using my bluetooth earpiece," she says with an embarrassed giggle. Well, probably not embarrassed because after 17 years of friendship, we are way beyond embarrassment.
"Well I guess it gets the job done...less strain on your neck."
She called just as I was on my way out the door. I'm walking to Filter, the coffeeshop a few blocks from where I live, to spend a few hours caffeinating myself, while editing a friend's manuscript and staring out a window. The weatherman on the radio said that "the wind-chill brings the temperature down to a chilly zero degrees."
"Well you'll be happy to know, that despite the fact that this is the coldest day of winter so far, I've decided to downsize my coat and therefore am not wearing the huge, purple, puffy-sleeved 80's number that everyone hates," I tell her. Ok, so maybe there is still room for embarrassment...our friend Abbi would jokingly (?) refuse to be seen with me senior year of high school after I bought the coat for $5 at a thrift store and thought it was really cool.
Then it's back to the earpiece. "You know I remember the first time I ever saw someone using one of those earpiece devices...” I begin to tell Amy the story of when I was living in New York City. It was my first year there, I think within my first week there, which would mean I, myself, didn’t even own a cell phone yet. I was in one of those corner delis, where you can get anything “for the road.” I was standing in line behind a woman who appeared to be talking to herself. Not just talking to herself, but literally talking about how she left a psych ward. I found this quite humorous (yet slightly strange…and wondered if there was some sort of padded vehicle waiting for her outside), noting it as one of those “only in New York” moments. Then she turned to leave. There was some sort of black device in her ear connected to a phone--which was clipped to her pants--by some sort of cord. I remember thinking, “What the heck is that??” and found that stranger than my original assumption that she was just a regular old psycho.
That took place in 2001. “Only in New York” took on a whole new meaning about a week later. I won’t go into all my personal recollections of September 11 (at least not now…someday maybe I’ll write a post about it...but for now I need to keep focused), but that day is worth mentioning because I did not yet own a cell phone. When I ran downstairs with my camera to stand in front of my dorm (on 5th ave. and 10th street) and stare at what happened, there was no one way for me to immediately contact anyone. I went to New York to start over, and seeing as this all happened on what was supposed to be only my 4th day of classes, I knew no one. There were people standing around me. I remember one man holding his cell phone and swearing at it because he couldn’t get a signal. And there was a girl standing behind me on a cell phone hysterically crying to someone on the other end, screaming, “DAD IS IN THERE AND PEOPLE ARE STANDING AROUND TAKING PICTURES!” I lowered my camera. From my vantage point I thought it was just a little Cessna that had caused the flaming hole and honestly wasn’t that concerned. But out of respect (and guilt) for the crying girl, I stopped taking pictures. I turned to go back inside. At that moment the second plane flew into the second tower. Then I was concerned—to put it mildly. I ran to my room and used a calling card to call home on the landline. My mom thankfully answered, and while she hung up to call my dad at work, I tried to call all of my best friends (we dispersed across the country after high school), only getting a hold of one. None of us had cell phones. In fact, the most popular gifts to give for high school graduation were calling cards. I had thrown my stack of them into a desk drawer when I moved into my new home, assuming they’d last me at least first semester, if not all of freshmen year. Within that month of September I talked my way through thousands of pre-paid minutes. When I went home for Thanksgiving that year, my parents gave me a cell phone for my 19th birthday (which always falls on or around Turkey Day). They knew I had emptied all my calling cards and feared that I’d never call home unless they sucked it up and bought me one.
Five years later it’s hard to imagine life without a cell phone. Everyone has one.
Well, everyone except my friend Andrew, who said to me the other night when we were planning to meet up somewhere at a certain time—“You know,” he said, not masking his annoyance, “this is what people did before cell phones.” I felt guilty and embarrassed because I am usually the one who gets defensive about the past, and here I found myself doubting that if we said we’d meet at 8:00 in front of Starbucks, that’d actually pan out as planned without one of us calling the other to say we’re running a few minutes late. He’s right. The world worked, and possibly better, before these little phones.
Growing up, the only people I knew who had anything close were Zack Morris from the famed Saved By the Bell and George, my friend’s dad, who had a “car phone”—named so because it rested between the driver and passenger seats, hence only for car use. Even that still had a cord.
Now, as I already mentioned above, everyone has one. Even 8-year-olds. I am officially a "soccer mom"...oh excuse me, a fencing mom. On Thursdays I pick up not only Max from school but his friend Maddie as well, a fellow seventh-grader, and drive them both to fencing lessons. Maddie hardly smiles, gives off the impression that she’s an apathetic hardass, and answers everything with a bite of sarcasm. She reminds me a lot of myself when I was twelve. So the other day she was sitting in the back of my car and she gets a phone call. Yes, you’re thinking: what does a 12-year-old need with a cell phone? But it gets worse.
“I told you five times—I’m twelve,” Maddie seethes. Followed by a deadpan series of, “No….no….yessss….no. I gotta go now.”
“Who was that?” I ask with a laugh.
“These little girls who ride my school bus.”
“How old are they?”
“What?! Are you serious??”
Later on Max is telling Maddie something when, all of a sudden, mid-sentence he goes, "Woah! Is that a PS2??"
I look in the rearview mirror to see Maddie holding some kind of handheld device.
"Yeah," Maddy responds coolly, as though it’s the dumbest question ever asked. Max, clearly impressed, proceeds to discuss the high costs of the brand spankin’ new PS3 and Nintendo’s Wii vs. his brand new XBox 360. I continue heading north on Lake Shore Drive, smiling to myself thinking about Mario, Luigi and DuckHunt.
“You know, I’d much prefer old-school Nintendo.” I am dating myself and they put me in my place.
“Ugh! Those graphics suck!”
Here’s where I’m going to insert a huge thanks directed to my parents who never let my sister and me have any sort of gaming system growing up. Even though I went to Sara’s and Shelley’s just so I could play Nintendo for a few hours once in awhile, and even though I may have been jealous when you bought Sheri a first-generation GameBoy, I think my life hugely benefited from not becoming a video game addict.
My parents bought their first computer in 1988. It was an Apple IIGS. I was entering kindergarten, yet reading at a sixth grade level. So to keep me occupied they bought Math Rabbit and Reader Rabbit and a program where I could write stories and create pictures to go along with those stories.
In second grade I remember going to meet-the-teacher day the day before school started, and my teacher, Mrs. Drucker, came over to me and said, “You’re going to be part of an exciting new classroom starting tomorrow. Do you know what WTW stands for?” I shyly shook my head. “It means ‘writing to write’ and you’ll be part of the only class in the school that has computers in the classroom.”
[Thus began my “total nerd and hated by most of the rest of the school” standing, as I was bounced around from one guinea-pig “smart kid” program after another…but much like 9.11, that could be a whole novel as well. So I’ll spare you…for now.]
I stayed with the same kids 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades as part of this computer-integrated class. We learned adjectives and verbs by watching simple animations on the computers and then we’d use the new words to form opinions and write stories about dinosaurs and windy cities.
In the later grades we learned survival skills from Oregon Trail and increased our math knowledge playing Number Munchers.
“But,” I say to Amy. I’m standing outside of Filter now, my fingers and nose almost numb.
“Nothing compares to that day in your house when we watched Bill Clinton speak on your computer.”
She laughs. “Yeah, on Encarta.”
Good ol’ Encarta—one of the first multimedia encyclopedias. I remember sitting beside Amy in her parent’s bedroom watching the computer screen. We were in fifth grade, and instead of looking through card catalogs at the library, we were doing our research using a digital version of an encyclopedia on her computer. She clicked the Play button, and suddenly there was our president speaking to us. I remember thinking this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen; this is a technological milestone.
(I wonder now if they still teach kids how to do real research or how to properly utilize a library’s resources. Or has education become too reliant on the World Wide Web?)
Then came Prodigy, followed by America Online, and suddenly I was “chatting” with people around the world. I didn’t become temporarily addicted to AIM (AOL instant messenger), though, until college. Unlike kids today who come home from school and head straight to the computer to chat online, I actually had things to do…like hang out with my friends IN PERSON.
(I know I sound like my parents when they talk about the invention of TV because the same things could be said…”we used to go outside, not sit in front of a box…”)
Kids don’t know life before all of this advanced technology. Even people my sister’s age, who are only three years younger than me, seem to be on the brink of having major face-to-face communication issues. She went to college already owning a cell phone, Ipod and laptop computer. And facebook.com hit the social networking fiends full force the year she began her first year of college.
Yes, I have a laptop now, but I didn’t get one until I graduated college. And yes, I have an Ipod, but I’ve been degraded by a 12-year-old asking me, “What?? You can’t watch TV on yours??” Um, no. That’s what a TV’s for. I don’t even waste that much time watching TV on an actual TV, so why would I carry a tiny one around with me?
A few months ago I was at a dinner party, and there was this kid there talking about his life at college (I believe he attended NIU) and how he takes all his courses online. This blew my mind. I mean especially with the amount of time spent on online social networking sites (whether it be facebook, myspace, friendster, probably 50 others I don’t even know about…) that goes on these days, I wondered if this guy ever left his computer. How do you take the classroom out of the educational experience? At least half of what I learned in college came from listening to my classmates or impromptu lessons that my teachers taught. How can a computer possibly replace this?
But I am conflicted. I can’t completely criticize these impersonal methods of communication. On September 11 I was talking to Jenny on the phone as I sat on my bed watching CNN updates on TV of what was happening a mile away. I screamed into the phone as they showed a plane crash into the Pentagon. “THE WORLD IS ENDING!” I feared that when I hung up the phone with her, the line would thenceforth be dead. But I had to hang up in order to find out what was going on. My fear was not unfounded. Right after I hung up, I immediately picked the receiver back up. Dead silence. I ran to my computer. There were three solid rows of blinking Instant Messages lining the bottom of the screen. Somehow, through all of this, the internet stayed connected and because of that I remained relatively calm.
You wouldn’t think one would have to repeat this experience, but I was one of the few who did. On March 11, 2004, exactly two and half years (almost to the hour) after the worst attack on U.S. soil, I experienced the worst attack on Spanish soil, as I was living in Madrid at the time of the Atocha train bombings. Again, the internet stayed connected. I had the chance to e-mail almost everyone back in the States that I was okay before most even woke up to read the front page news. And thanks to AIM, once again, I talked with my friends studying abroad in London, Maastricht, Ireland and Paris while everything was going on in Madrid.
I've been having trouble thinking of how to end this post because it could potentially go on and on. Then last night I got a text message from a friend—the one whose manuscript I was editing when I began writing this post three weeks ago—that said, “You’re a good friend Alyse.” This came out of nowhere but brought a smile to my face. Maybe [some] technology isn’t so bad…
[photo of a photo: i took this picture of a photography i liked at the Rhona Hoffman Gallery. It was taken by Brian Ulrich and was party of his Thrift series.]