Getting older and cannot keep up with my phone
Burt's Eye View
The reminder tone binged on my cellphone: “Credit card payment due.”
“I paid that. I think. Did I? Oh, no.” I scrambled for my laptop and toggled through schedules, spreadsheets and note programs. “Yeah, here it is. I sent it in on the 30th. And on the 24th.” I slapped my forehead. “I paid it twice?”
“I guess that makes up for a couple months ago when you didn’t pay it at all,” my wife said.
I groaned. “When did I become this forgetful?”
“I think,” my wife said, “it was right after you started using devices to help you remember everything.”
“When was that, exactly?” I scrolled through my phone. “Maybe I stored it on my calendar.”
I used to remember everything. I didn’t keep lists, nor did I scribble notes on calendars. I calculated everything in mind, and my brain — which used to be nimble but lately tends toward numb — organized it all.
Then I got a smart phone. I’ve been stupid ever since.
I should have seen it coming.
In the early 1970s, Dad bought Mom one of those new-fangled electronic calculators. It was big, heavy and clunky, and set Dad back $70. But hey, it could add, subtract, divide and multiply, and made Mom’s job as family bookkeeper easier.
All of us kids wanted to hijack the thing to help with homework. Teachers warned us that using smart technology would make us stupid. We’d forget how to do math in our heads.
What a ridiculous notion!
By the mid-1970s, the nerdiest of us high school kids holstered clunky but lightweight 40-button devices that calculated things like square roots, cosines, logs and pi, and spelled swear words if you pushed the correct sequence of numbers and held the red digital display upside down.
Teachers warned us to keep our brains in practice because you never knew when your calculator battery would die.
We weren’t stupid. Pockets were invented to carry spare batteries.
Flash forward a few decades and numbers give me headaches. And I can’t even take two aspirin without using a calculator to count them correctly.
Aiding and abetting this sluggishness of gray cells, just about every electronic device these days comes with a built-in calculator as well as a built-in calendar. Every morning, my cellphone and my laptop chirp reminders at me like Rosie the Robot on “The Jetsons,” but with less cheer and coddling.
The end result is not only can I no longer add numbers in my head, I can’t remember dates, either. Without my smartphone, I’m likely to show up for Sunday morning worship Tuesday afternoon. I can’t even remember to get out of my easy chair at night if I miss the it’s-time-to-go-to-bed alarm on my cell.
And now I’m reading news stories about driverless cars and seeing commercials for vehicles that parallel park themselves. They’re packed with onboard cameras and chips and apps that take you anywhere. I already can’t remember how to fold a roadmap and soon, I won’t remember how to drive. Our roads will look like giant slot car races. We’ll sit on benches and watch our automobiles zip around city streets by themselves, going to all the places that we forgot to go.
Smart technology is making us stupid.
— Zap Cole a note on your smartphone at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook.