Perils of Technology

You don't have to be Luddite to worry about where our stuff will be in the future

Going through a box of photos recently, I happened on a grainy black and white print and saw my great-grandmother, my grandmother, and her brothers and sisters standing in front of the old home place 100 years ago.

I was rummaging through one of my bookcases the other night for something to read and came across a book I bought at a yard sale when I was in junior high school. It is the story of the Middle Ages and the fight to stop the Ottoman Empire from invading Europe. It was published in 1886. I got it down and read it again.

Lest you think I'm slipping into an Old Fogey tirade against technology, let me say that I love my laptop and my cell phone. It gives me the freedom to work and play anywhere, from my home office to my grape arbor to a Nashville hotel room during the legislative session.

But I do wonder about our digital age 100 years from now. Will my great-grandchildren be able to access the digital images of our family? Will they dig out my wife's Kindle and be able to enjoy the extensive library she is accumulating? Of course, there is no guarantee that the 1,500 books I've accumulated in eight bookcases will be around either. But if they are, they can be accessed by anybody who wants to open one.

I thought these thoughts because in that box of photos there is a period back in the 1970s when family photos at Christmas were taken with brand new Polaroid cameras. The photos are fading fast, they have a greenish or yellowish tint and they look funny even without the funny clothes and hairstyles.

Then there are the family digital photos in my last defunct laptop that I hope to take to my computer guru and recover some day.

On a recent Saturday afternoon I ran into two people in the neighborhood looking for a telephone land line. (One of them, ironically, in order to activate a cell phone.) I told them I didn't have one. Seems no one else we knew did either. I was in the Knoxville phone book for 25 years, but everybody in my family has a cell phone and the only calls we got on the land line were from telemarketers. I kept it awhile to use on one of my two relatively new and unused FAX machines. But when was the last time you got a FAX as opposed to an e-mail attachment?

Last week I was looking up a phone number for a new doctor. (I do that a lot lately.) I realized that the phone book is two years old, and since I don't have a telephone I'm not getting another one. What do I do when more and more of those numbers change and the book gets further and further out of date? My wife says don't worry; just look them up on the Internet. Yeah, I guess that works for most businesses and professional people. Or you can call information and for 50 cents they'll give you the number. What if you are trying to call John Smith? Or you don't have a computer?

Have you tried to get a public official on the land line office phone lately? It's rare to even get a secretary. The line is for you to leave a message or to direct you to another department. If you want to talk to a public official or staffer, you have to know their unpublished cell phone number.

I used to have a lot of numbers in my head and the ones that weren't there were in a dog-eared notebook in my inside suit pocket. Now the numbers are in my cell phone directory. I don't know that I can recall two telephone numbers now. I just hit the name in the directory. I don't even know my wife's cell phone number from memory.

What happens if I drop the phone in the Holston River? If I do, let me take this opportunity to say good bye to family, friends, and business contacts.