Life in the Pedestrian Lane: Let’s talk

Seems like everyday I read something about what the “younger generation” doesn’t know. I’ve adapted to the idea that no one can fold a diaper anymore, or fix a tire or even bake a cake.

My generation didn’t know how to trim the wick of a kerosene lamp, drive a plow horse, or for that matter, make lye soap in a big kettle in the back yard. I’m sure my grandparents were as appalled at our ignorance as we are at the Millennials, believing the world was going to hell in a hand basket and humanity would never survive the ignorance of the coming generations.

But what I heard recently has topped it all. Some high schools and even colleges are offering a communications course to teach students to talk to each other. Not a debate course, not a technical writing course, a class to teach young adults when it is appropriate to say “Good morning, how are you today.” It emphasizes the basic “rules” for polite conversation: First, I didn’t realize there are “rules” for polite conversation. I thought you just opened your mouth, engaged your brain and your tongue knew what to do. Sorta like walking … something you learn by osmosis and practice. Second: how in the world could it become necessary to teach something so basic to human interaction as conversation, and third: What the heck is the world coming to? (There, I said it. Now I am my mother for sure)

Of course, this class has been made necessary because of smart phones. No one talks to anyone anymore, except us dinosaurs having lunch with our buddies. Forget the grocery list? No need to call and ask which kind of flour; text the spouse and a list will appear magically on the screen as a picture taken with HER (or his, as the case may be) phone. At least someone in the household still holds a pencil and makes lists. Need to match a color? Nothing as mundane as taking along a sample to compare to a swatch. Again the magic camera on the phone. I have to admit, it is a handy tool, but has become the brain of too many people.

A psychologist said recently that soon no one would remember how to think anymore because their phones did it for them. No one has to look anything up, because you ask the phone “Siri, where is Timbuktu?” and a multitude of references appear on the screen that tells you where to find that city. No one reads a map, because the GPS on the phone, or in the car gives you oral directions: “Turn right at the next intersection”, or “Wrong turn, Wrong turn.” When No. 1 son got a new car with a GPS, his youngest daughter loved to give it a destination, then she’d say “Dad take a wrong turn so we can see what she does.”

To add to the list of things people no longer know how to do will soon be drive a car when self-driving vehicles come into common usage. Add that to use a card catalog, read a slide rule, do math, and soon humans will be obsolete. I also read that in the near future, we’ll have a computer chip implanted that records all our memories because people are forgetting how to remember because they don’t need to. It would be similar to Google: just say “What did I do last night?” and the chip would engage and you’d get the flash back. I wonder if you can then erase those memories you would rather forget? Or maybe add memories you’d like to have.

But I digress. The irony is that this is being perpetrated by a phone. An instrument first invented so people could talk to each other over distance.

Now hardly anyone uses the phone for that. It’s easier and quicker to text, and not as personal. But have you received a text from anyone? They talk in shorthand: OMG, LOL, IMHO, and an occasional WTF. Even news people say POTUS and FLOTUS and SCOTUS (which sounds just a little obscene).

I suspect “creative abbreviation” has taken the place of enunciation as a speech requirement. I avoided shorthand in high school to the extent I took Latin instead. (I was eventually proven correct, as no one I know still uses their shorthand, and I once in awhile have use for the Latin.) I have no concept of saving a second to write LOL instead of Laugh Out Loud … it’s like driving 65 instead of 60 so you can arrive a minute early. But then my time is unlimited, as I’m retired. I don’t have to hurry someplace so I can sit and text back to my grandkids and take pictures of the food when my Dinosaur friends and I have lunch.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai. Email her at vewalters@gci.net.

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