By Ken Trainor
Unlike most Americans it seems these days, I don't have an oversized television. In fact, I tease my friends by asking if they want to stop by to see my "small-screen TV."
Nowadays, small TVs are a novelty — like the pocket watch I carry. In fact, I am a living testament to low technology — the only person in the editorial office at Wednesday Journal with a telephone book at his desk. Remember the word "telephone"? It's what "land lines" used to be called.
I'm also pretty sure I'm the last person in the developed world under the age of 80 who doesn't own a "cellphone," which is what "smart phones" used to be called.
And I'm the only person here at the office with a "dictionary." That's a large, ancient-looking book, which sits on the edge of my desk, available to anyone, but now that my buddy Bob Sullivan has retired, I'm the only one who ever uses it.
Most people look up words online, of course, but I enjoy getting out of my chair and breaking the psychic umbilical cord to my terminal because some days that's about all the exercise I get.
I don't have anything against high technology. In fact, I often ask friends to look things up for me on their smart phones. Those magic rectangles come in downright handy at times.
I'm not as out of the loop as you might think. Email is fun (except when the receiver reads something sinister into my innocuous attempts at communication), and I have friends who email me articles to keep me up to date. Honestly, I'm beholden.
When I connect to my Yahoo! email each day, the "home page" helpfully lists what is "Trending Now," so I can track what is uppermost on people's minds (based on what they "Google"). When Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon and perhaps the last great American hero, died on Aug. 25, here's what was "trending" the next morning:
Terrell Owens, Teen sues Burger King, Kristen Bell, Usain Bolt, Pit bull attacks car, Kevin Durant, Tim Tebow's Madden video game, Dish Network, Air quality, and Target cheaper than … (I didn't click to find out). Neil, evidently, was not top of mind, culturally speaking. May he rest in peace anyway.
Unlike those who stare at their rectangles as they walk (or drive) down the street, I don't feel an especially urgent need to stay hyper-connected at all times. If I want to know "what's going on," I just listen to what people get worked up about. Lately, for instance, they've been all worked up about the quality of NFL officiating. Before that it was the epic moral battle between the Chicago Teachers Union and Darth Emanuel. Before that, everyone seemed mesmerized by the guilt or innocence of Drew Peterson. People have been worked up about that for several years.
My conclusions are these: Americans are very, very concerned about right and wrong, fairness and justice. We don't want anyone getting away with murder. We want our children to be educated, but we don't seem willing to do whatever it takes to educate them well (or even equally well). And we want competent people in positions of authority to make the right calls when "the big game" is on the line.
We're also quite obsessed with who is winning and who is losing. There is a lot of winning and losing going on all around us, and, from what I can tell, there are far too few people winning and far too many losing.
It's not that I'm a low-tech guy so much as a "slow-tech" guy. I think there's still a place in the world for people who process information slowly. But I do have a "large screen" at my disposal. It's a low-tech device called "a window." I look out on my corner of the world and observe the parade of countless lives. I see the seasons turn, fashions change, clouds passing, new shops opening and closing. I see people who remind me of people who walk these streets no more.
Lately, I've been seeing a lot of pregnant women — a hopeful sign — and a lot of parents with young children. Having once been through this myself, and after listening to them interact, it is my carefully considered opinion that one word needs to be eliminated from parental vocabularies: Never punctuate your instructions to your children with the question, "OK?" Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. If they think you're offering them a choice between what they want to do and what you want them to do, guess which one they'll choose? Trust me, this will make your life a lot easier.
We slow-tech folks have a perspective worth paying attention to. We're older — or as a friend put it the other day, "We're no longer so stuck in the gears of living. We can step back and see the bigger picture."
And there is no picture bigger, potentially anyway, than your point of view — but only if you do what it takes to expand it.
Just think of it as the large screen of your life.