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Rated: E · Column · Biographical · #1813381
My last column for the Pittsburgh Pa Tribune-Review Focus Magazine, Aug.3, 2010.
Born to be Plugged In or Tuned Out?
Is it just me, or does the younger generation get downright smug when the topic of conversation turns to cutting edge technology and the many gizmos they require for social networking?
“Graaam!  Text my cell, it’s faster.  Here, I’ll show you how,” says the youth with an exasperated sigh accompanied by exaggerated eye rolling.  Translated, this means:  “You  belong draped in a saber-toothed tiger skin and displayed with other extinct species behind glass at the Smithsonian.”
Comments like that make me want to squeeze the little darlings until their iPods pop out.

Let the kids  wave their MP3 players, their Apple iPhones, their netbooks, e-readers, and bluetooth-enabled blackberrys, or whatever, under our noses.  I say, “If we are to take these devices seriously, stop naming them after fruit!”

To my generation, ‘tis  much ado about nothing.
During the late 1940s, test pilots “cracked” the sound barrier above new suburbs  where our parents were busy producing a massive bunch of post WWII babies.  We “boomers” teethed on radio broadcast systems which soon produced the ultimate babysitter–-television.  Until 1958 the spanking new space program had not yet led to breakthroughs in electronic miniaturization.  As a result, we spent a large part of puberty tethered to buildings by telephone cords.  By then, some of us were able to carry our music with us in small personal devices --transistor radios.

A chosen few baby boomers were allowed to watch television in school.

I attended elementary school in Hagerstown, Maryland.  In 1956 my town was chosen by the Ford Foundation to participate in the Closed-circuit Television Project.  The Foundation thought the
“Hub City” fit the bill statistically as a typical American town.  In order to reach hundreds of students at once, the Foundation married the traditional classroom experience with the boisterous young medium of television.

This would prove to be an unholy alliance rivaled only by the pairing of Ed Sullivan and Topo Gigio.

Studios were set up in the Board of Education building, the Museum, and the Library.  Local educators  were the stars.

I’ll never forget the day big chunky tv sets were wheeled into our classrooms.  Nothing else, short of a lifetime excuse from gym class, could have brought me more joy.

There was just one glitch in the exciting educational experiment:  TV classes were as dry and brain-deadening as cafeteria meatloaf.

The TV teachers were not entertainers.  Used to moving freely around a classroom, they now had to lecture to an unresponsive and unforgiving camera eye.

Some were better than others.  I looked forward to my seventh grade conversational Spanish class. The TV teacher made it fun, and I actually learned some words and phrases.

On the flip side, however, was poor Mr. Hewit.  Picture a bespectacled walrus explaining math equations in a relentless monotone.  Five minutes into his lecture, a locust-like droning filled the auditorium.  Dozens of teenagers were snoring, glazed eyes fixed on the flickering image of a tiny, talking walrus.
By high school, we were benumbed to experimental TV classes-- as lethargic as drugged laboratory  rats.  A  few of us chronically gnawed our feet or continually beat our heads against the bars, I mean seats, in front of us.  But most of us developed coping mechanisms.

Closely monitored by an equally bored in-house teacher, we mastered skills in covert activities.

Our clandestine note passing, code writing in Opinion books, and intricate hand signaling system would have impressed the KGB.  Communism may have self-destructed a lot sooner had the Pentagon recruited the class of 1966 as espionage specialists.

My first boyfriend and I carried on arguments, break-ups, and reconciliations entirely by notes smuggled during TV class.  Other than that we barely spoke during the two years I wore his class ring on a chain around my neck.  Our final break-up  was a brief flurry of hand gestures.
We communicated without batteries, cells, pods, electrical outlets or satellite signals.

Nowadays I need a central station with the charging capabilities of  NASA’s flight control room to keep my phones, digital cameras, video cams, cordless tools and pacemakers running. 
  OK, I admit today’s youth is indeed technologically savvy.  And yes, some of the entries in my cell phone address book read like “Apad pmgg” or “Jejjw Jmmdp..” Never you mind-- I know exactly what they mean.  As a former CIA code breaker, I can quickly decipher them.

Whenever I feel overwhelmed by new technology, I just picture kids today as the older generation-- necks stiff with arthritis and thumbs the size of bratwursts.  Just let the little know-it-all’s try to put their reading glasses on with those suckers.
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