Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

September 15, 2012

Modern letter writing, telephone books and the demise of the toaster oven

My world is disappearing and doing so with a vengeance. It is not just slipping away — it is headed down the track like a freight train from Bluefield east on the Christiansburg grade. While I am fairly certain I can hang on, at least until the engine reaches the next station, I will miss the good old days. Change is not so bad but the pace of it is ever increasing and that is what is really chipping (no pun intended) at the parameters of what many of us have always known.

For example, calling one’s friends or acquaintances often requires different strategies. Having grown up with a phone book I have simply been able to alphabetically go the last letter of an individual or company name, locate the number, and dial it up. By the way, the phrase “dial up” is another dinosaur now often found only in memory — and not nearly as much memory as is needed in these technological times. More and more, when I call or try to call a number it has either been disconnected or removed entirely.

 That does not mean the person has passed away — they just don’t have a land line (real telephone) any more. Quite often, I am unable to complete those calls because there are no phone books that I can find with the correct numbers in them anymore. I did ask somebody why there is no cell phone telephone book and the answer was that with so many companies offering so many products customers are continually changing their services and numbers. I am not sure what the answer to that situation is but I find that rather than bringing me closer to communication, I am becoming more isolated because I don’t know where to get all those numbers.

Increasing numbers of citizens have cell phones in their pockets or nearby at all times so the traditional home phone will apparently be obsolete within the next few years. As an old country boy, it saddens me to think that we may be on the way to becoming a nation of strangers. That won’t happen in my lifetime but it is a possibility looming on the not-too-distant horizon. I recently visited a state agency to purchase some required items. As I looked over the offerings it occurred to me that the facility encouraged using the website and not visiting the actual building. Prices were more expensive for the walk-up customer. It seems to me that is making the machine the master and a not so subtle way of phasing out jobs that, especially in our part of the state, we can certainly use.

If on some day in the near future Virginia residents stop going to state agency offices completely then maybe all the local employees will be laid off. I hope that never happens but the impetus from Richmond certainly is shifted that way. As we prepare to do research papers I am in the midst of change myself and helping it along. Rather than encourage the use of notebooks here in the 21st century I find myself instructing the students to secure a suitable flash drive to store information. As a teacher that is my job and I do it to the best of my ability.

We compose and do our desk top publishing in the most modern ways possible because that is the present and future for our young people. Paper and pencil, handwriting, and other long observed traditions are, if not on the verge of elimination, at least much less in use than they have been in the history of the Republic.

At the end of our research unit we are going to make the traditional oral presentation but yours truly has instructed the children to use technology rather than the older display boards or simple speeches. So, you see, I am not fighting the system but am encouraging these teenagers to continually increase their skills with the latest electronic devices. Privately, I am not sure that is the best thing to do but publicly I realize that it is definitely the correct course to pursue.

What my generation used to do is surely not always what the next one is going to do. Perhaps that is as it should be. The Panama Canal was one of the great engineering projects of the age. Even before its completion, it was outdated because the railroad was growing as the nation’s best means of commercial movement. That not only affected the canal boatmen but soon put a stop to travel by stagecoach and mail shipment by Pony Express. Passengers soon took to the rails.

Not many years passed before men like Henry Ford presented a wide range of automobiles and the highway builders effectively stopped the railroad monopoly on passenger service. Airplanes squelched the steamship excursions as progress kept its steady march. Air conditioners have given way to heat pumps. Toaster ovens died in the microwave.  So, I am going to work with technology as best I can in the time I have remaining. It will just be a different world. I found that out at the post office earlier this week when the clerk said “Hey, you’re a teacher. Why don’t you all get busy out there? These kids come in and have no idea how to address an envelope! Don’t they write letters anymore?” I wanted to say “what’s a letter?” but I was afraid I might get hit by that train.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

  

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