Tuesday, December 03, 2019

you don't need an off ramp if you never get on the highway

The year was 1991.

I had decided to take my then-girlfriend Susan on a two-week trip to Italy. So, I did what every middle-class middle-aged American did back then. I walked to a travel agency, picked up a glossy, color catalog outlining the allures of Italy, and booked an appointment with an agent to purchase, as the brochure would have it, my "one in a life time trip." The  brochure was oblivious to the fact that I had been to Italy several times.

When my appointment rolled around in two days, I sat down with my assigned agent, who asked me more questions than a policemen at a sobriety roadblock. She then threaded together reservations for airline flights, train rides, and hotel stays that would allow Susan and me to spend time in Rome, Venice, Florence, and Milan. The whole process made me feel like a spectator.

The year is the most important part of that tale. 1991.

That was before Al Gore had invented the internet in his mother's garage. My reliance on the internet did not begin until a couple years later when I signed up with AOL. (I still remember my first message -- to my friend Bob in England asking how his day had been. Not much has changed in messaging since then.)

By contrast, this morning, I booked a round-trip flight to Oregon for Christmas along with over-night hotel stays in Portland and Los Angeles. On my smartphone. While sitting in my patio in Barra de Navidad. And I had to answer no questions. At least, out loud.

Most of us never think about how technology has altered our lives. Well, that is not exactly true. When we do talk about it, it is usually with a miasma of grumpiness when we mutter about smartphones ruining an entire generation of young people in one fell swoop -- as if the Black Death had returned in the guise of iPhones.

I tend to live in another camp. I have always been an early adopter of technological changes. The attorneys at my last office rebelled at being "turned into secretaries" when we were required to draft our documents on the newly-arrived desktop computers. I was happy that I could immediately produce a product the way I wanted it instead of subjecting my secretary to my indecipherable foolscap scrawls.

But I was reminded once again this morning that not everyone is speeding along the digital toll-road. Before I made my reservations, I called my Air Force friend Robin Olson. He told me in August he might be visiting the house with no name in December. It turns out that he will be entertaining guests of his own in Nevada, instead.

The fact that I was able to contact him was almost a miracle. I have three friends, including Robin, who do not use computers. They have no email addresses. They do not text on their telephones. Two do not have cellulars. Robin has a cellular, but it has no text capability. They are all men of another era.

When Robin needs to book a flight, he will go to his travel agent in Huron, South Dakota. (She must be the equivalent of the last Blockbuster store in Bend.) It works for him.

I am far too optimistic to indulge in the Irwin Allen-style of disaster hypotheticals of the popular media. So, it is hard for me to even conceptualize "What would the world be like if the internet disappeared?"

But I do know the answer. I would once again be sitting next to a travel agent asking me if I knew the weight of an unladen sparrow.

And I would have a Gloria Gaynor moment -- knowing I would survive.

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