Technology: Not For Me

By Jude Waterston
Posted 7/19/19

There’s a wonderful scene in the 1982 movie, “Diner,” between Daniel Stern and Ralph Tabakin. Stern is working in sales at an appliance store and Tabakin walks in and over to a …

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Technology: Not For Me

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There’s a wonderful scene in the 1982 movie, “Diner,” between Daniel Stern and Ralph Tabakin. Stern is working in sales at an appliance store and Tabakin walks in and over to a television and asks, “Is this show in color or is something wrong with the set?” “Nothing’s wrong. It’s a black-and-white set,” Stern responds. Tabakin tells Stern, “I saw an episode of “Bonanza” in color at my in-laws and the Ponderosa looked faked. I hardly recognized Little Joe. It’s not for me.” Stern smiles wearily. “I want a black-and-white 21-one inch Emerson television,” Tabakin says. Stern walks him over to a set. “What’s this?” Tabakin asks irritably. “Oh, that’s a high fidelity system,” Stern explains. Tabakin yells, “I don’t want no high fidelity!” Stern rolls his eyes. Then he yells over to a staff member, “Can you see if we have a black-and-white Emerson cabinet style, no record player, in stock?” “Not. For. Me,” Tabakin repeats emphatically.
When I worked in the Art Department of New York University, also in the 1980s, computers were rolled into our offices one morning and I watched, in fear, as my beloved, well-worn electric typewriter was removed from my desk and replaced with a computer. A fellow worker, a tech geek (probably the first of his kind), was beside himself with excitement. He couldn’t wait to train me in the use of this miracle machine, and it was all I could do not to cry or throw up. I did neither, and instructed I was, but I never used my computer for much more than word processing.
When beepers, used by doctors and drug dealers, went out of style and cellular phones became popular with the everyday Joe, I watched as more and more people walked around talking into this “thing” at bars, in stores, and eventually out on the streets as they walked along, often next to someone they were with and who was also on the phone yakking away. I was appalled at having to hear what people were going to eat for dinner that evening; what movie they had watched the night before, or worse, made to listen as they argued with a partner. “Why do I have to hear this?” I wondered. This was just the beginning.
Soon I would notice people apparently talking to themselves, which isn’t all that unusual in New York City, but they didn’t appear mentally ill. Then I spied a little plastic gizmo clipped to their ear, allowing them to talk without having to hold anything in their hand. Next, the phones got bigger and did many more things beyond placing a call. People I worked with went around (literally) saying, “I love my phone,” as new versions came out. Instead of calling someone to speak, their thumbs starting moving at a rapid rate on a tiny keyboard.
Texting became so popular that winter gloves were developed that would allow you to flip back the knitted tip of the thumb so you could keep everyone apprised of your slightest move. People held their phones in their hand wherever they went, typing as they walked the city streets, often causing them to bump into others sharing the sidewalk. Rarely was an apology offered. It is rare to see a subway rider not engaged with their phone. Does anyone think or daydream anymore?
The world has grown quieter as texting became the go-to method of sharing every movement or thought, and fewer people actually speak into their phones. Relationships shatter and breakups occur via the typing of just a few words.
You can now shop on your phone; look for directions; and Google anything or anyone. Most exciting is the fact that you can take photographs of yourself, or with friends, or of some stranger’s dog, or a car accident. There are apps for everything, but I admit to not knowing what an app is. I do not know what it means to “like” something on Facebook and I don’t want to share my life’s story in that manner. Social networking has taken over the world I knew: the world of holding a spellbinding book in your hand and flipping the pages, or splattering a little tomato sauce on an open cookbook on your counter. I like talking to people on the phone, hearing my cousin’s laugh, a friend’s throaty voice. I look at my photo albums often, remembering something my mother said or what it meant to me to visit my dad in the nursing home and hold his hand tightly in mine as depicted in the photos my sister took. I like to fold open The New York Times even if it’s slightly awkward to maneuver and I have to wash my hands afterwards.
A friend gave me a tiny flip phone that I keep in my bag in case of an emergency. I don’t give the number out, and I don’t know how to retrieve a message if someone noted my number after I used the phone to call. I admit I Google things and I do find emailing a quick and easy way to touch base with a friend or family member. I have an old American Heritage dictionary on my computer desk which I use daily as a freelance writer, but I sometimes Google the meaning as it can be faster. I get that technology has made many things easier. Everything we might ever want to know is at our fingertips. It’s fast, fast, fast. We can’t slow down now if we want to. Or can we? Last night I emailed a friend in anger. Turns out I was mistaken and presumptuous in my perceptions and he wrote back to tell me so. I apologized in writing and then thought, let me call him and really say I’m sorry and talk to him and hear his voice. Let me connect for real.

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