Monday, November 26, 2012

Entering the New World, not so Bravely

This post is a logical follow-up to my last one about the darkness that enveloped us when “Superstorm” Sandy struck New Jersey and New York a few weeks ago—which is pretty remarkable since what I planned to be writing about is our decision to spend Thanksgiving in Vermont this year. 

Packing for the trip, we gathered up lots of food for our feast to augment what we planned to purchase in the quaint market near Mount Snow. We had already reserved a fresh Vermont turkey a few weeks ahead. What is so special about a fresh Vermont turkey, you may wonder? We discovered that one difference is cost. At nearly $4.00/pound, this one would be one of our priciest turkeys ever. Was the taste worth the cost? I can’t tell you, since I was eating tofurkey instead. (The vegan “bird” is really not a fair substitute for a turkey, but you can delude yourself into believing it is, especially when you cover it with the gravy provided in the package or with Johnny Harris barbecue sauce.) 

Into a small corner of the rear of our Jeep, we shoehorned shopping bags and a small ice chest containing the tofurky, applesauce (both store-bought and homemade), homemade cranberry bread, gravy base, various fruits and vegetables we had on hand that might spoil before we returned to New Jersey four days later, butter, cans of seltzer for Brett, food and toys for the dog, and a gallon jug of iced tea from Trader Joe’s. The rest of the space was occupied with suitcases, several items we planned to leave in Vermont, loose coats and sweaters, the dog’s crate, and a whole slew of electronic items—which is where the connection to the Superstorm comes in.

We had iPhones, an iPad, a separate speaker system for the iPad, at least one computer, several iPods, a small radio for me to listen to sports at night, and lots of charging cables. One cannot go anywhere these days without charging cables. As the number of bars decrease on our phones or the power indicator lines begin to descend on our other devices, we begin to quake with fear. Soon we will be cut off, we worry. And if we get cut off in the mountains of Vermont, boy, we are really going to be isolated!

This was the fear that overtook most of us in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy cut off our electric power. We could put on an extra sweater as the heat inside our houses went down. We could find prepared food if we were unable to cook. We could probably find a place to shower if our hot water heater stopped working. But we had to find a working electric outlet (or three or four) so we could recharge our electronics nearly every day. Brett tells me that the Verizon store in his neighborhood in Queens posted a large sign reading: “Free charging inside”—which seems like an oxymoron to me. In Glen Rock, the town hall (which mercifully had power) and many county libraries were opened to residents to come plug in. We found our life line by accessing working power lines.

Nothing could be more symbolic of twenty-first century survival than the ability to take charge of technology and modern communication devices. And that's what has me worried. I fear that I am already behind the times and falling back quickly, no matter how many charging cables I employ.

My formative years were spent in the second half of the twentieth century. I am old enough to remember when black-and-white television first gave way to color by the late 1950s and early 1960s. This was momentous for me not only because I could finally see that Lucy’s hair was indeed red but also because the change pushed my father into giving up the television and radio repair business he had established when my brother and I were little. My father knew tubes and wires—at least those in a black-and-white set—but he needed more training and costly equipment to deal with color sets, and he couldn’t afford the time or money to retrain and retool. He moved along to the grocery business, which meant working for other people instead of himself. I think the change took something out of him, though he never complained. That was not my father’s way. I think it was not the way that any fathers were expected to act in those days. It took us baby boomers to introduce vocal dissent and discontent into the fathering business.
My father learning about electronics.
He's the man on the right with all the hair
So, just as my father had trouble adapting, I am a little concerned that I too may be coming up short. I recently was required to take part in an on-camera preliminary interview in order to qualify for an in-person job interview. My relatively old desktop has no camera attached (something which can be easily remedied, I am sure), so I borrowed my wife’s new Apple laptop and went through the slow, painful process of responding to questions on camera. In this case, I could review my responses and replace any I felt didn’t show me at my best. (I did a lot of replacing, which explains why the interview was slow and painful.)  When I questioned my son, the 31-year-old job recruiter, about the necessity for going though such a process, he was very positive about it. “They want to see if you can live in the modern world,” he remarked, in those exact words or in something like them.

Hell, we’re talking about writing and editing print books, I noted. That’s a business as old as the hills. I have moved with that business from typewriters to electronic typewriters to computers with simple word processing programs to desktop publishing programs to large-scale electronic page-setting and editing. I am not a computer-phobe, but my learning curve seems to be increasing as the technology gets more complex. And my “worry quotient” is increasing, too.

This Internet photo is labeled "electronic device."
Could anything look more complex and imposing?

I am somewhat consoled in my worry about my electronic ignorance by the fact that I found my way to blogging using Google's program called Blogger and a print book called Blogging in a Snap. I have made rudimentary design changes in this blog (and plan to make some more), but I am a little nervous that my lack of sophistication shows through. Recently I needed to prepare some PowerPoint slides for a presentation. I recruited a 20-something former colleague to help me. In two hours she did what might have taken me two days. I am proud of the fact that I was able to edit a few of her slides and even added two new ones of my own, following her format. So I know I can learn. I just feel a little overwhelmed sometimes by how much there is to learn. (As you can see, my father may never have complained, but I have complaints aplenty!)

I did not intend this post to be about the clash between old and young ideas—what we used to call the “generation gap” in the '60s. I really meant to be writing about Thanksgiving in Vermont with high-priced turkey and a small but select group of family members who celebrated together in our house in Vermont and via Facetime from Helsinki (where Amanda was dining on reindeer meat or whatever the Finnish serve there on our holiday.) Luckily, our phones and pads were charged when she called in. Luckily, she had wi-fi and we had 3G and 4G to make the connection possible. Unluckily, I have no idea what any of those terms actually means. I am just going along for the ride in the 21st century. And I am hoping that the power stays on in both my house and my brain as long as possible.

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