Friday, January 05, 2007

Grandmothers and Technology

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Arthur C. Clarke

In less than a century, communications technology has literally changed the way we live. It's broadened our horizons -- and our expectations. It's brought events from next door or around the world into our daily lives with immediacy and reality.

In less than half a century, what once was revolutionary is now commonplace. But back when we were kids, most adults hadn't yet learned to take technology for granted, much less expect new and more complex versions at ever shortening intervals.

When I was growing up watching Super Man or the Mickey Mouse Club on TV, the grown-ups used to say to each other with bemused wonder, "Remember radio?"

These days we're more likely to say, "Remember Walkmans?" Or Betamax. Or plain old Nintendo. Our kids have seen mega-strides in their own short lifetimes. My 23-year-old son has gone from cassettes to CDs to DVDs to iPod to Wii in the blink of an eye.

Technology now offers us endless interactive possibilities. But it has altered forever the way people--especially families--interact. If they interact at all.

My friend Jesse Kornbluth, aka Head Butler, recently shared with readers a sweet and funny anecdote about his immigrant grandmother's touching naivete on technology and entertainment.

Here's Jesse's brief tale:

My Russian immigrant grandmother thought "Mr. Ed" --- a 1950's TV series about a talking horse --- really was a talking horse. "Vy else," she would say, "vould he be on TV?"
Vy else indeed.

There's a similar anecdote in my husband's family. He tells it this way:
My off-the-boat Russian grandmother lived with us when I was a kid. Bubbe was afraid of the TV. But we had a big old-fashioned box radio. I'd turn it on for her and she'd sit listening to that radio for hours, staring at it intently.

"Tatela," she finally said to me one day with a puzzled look on her face, "Those pipple in there... ven do they go to the bathroom?"
If only Bubbe could see cable tv ... well, wait. Maybe not such a good idea for her or Jesse's grandmother.

I'd like to think they were better off living with their families and without the craziness of modern technology.

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