Sunday, November 30, 2008

No Cell Phone, Please

I have explained this particular quirk of mine to many people. It isn't because I am proud of it, or because I am some kind of neo-Luddite, but rather simply that I have not felt the need to own a cell phone.

While you're catching your breath and making your exasperated arguments in favor of this decade's favorite toy, let me explain the Luddites. In the late 1700's and well into the next century, the king of industrial labor in England was textiles, the manufacture of fabrics. This work had traditionally been done in small quantities by hand, but during the Industrial Revolution mass production became the mantra of business. Massive factories were being constructed all over Britain for the purpose of creating vast quantities of woven fabrics. These were to be made on giant looms that were automated, at least partially. Humans, especially humans with small hands, like children, were still needed to maintain the operation of the automated machines which were prone to jamming. The nature of these machines were such that they were not shut down in order to free a jam, so children repairing them often lost fingers in the process, or worse.

Ned Ludd, an Englishman working in the textile mill, saw the advent of these machines as the death of skilled laborers like himself. His solution was to destroy the automated looms. Taking his example, in the early years of the 1800's, a rebellion of textile workers arose during which many factories were destroyed. These followers of Ludd, called Luddites, were opposed to new technology which replaces skilled workers, or eliminates their own utility. In their era it simply was not possible to change careers when the apprenticeship program took an average of ten years. Losing one's job was very nearly a death sentence.

Today the term Luddite has been used to describe anyone opposed to technology for a varitey of reasons, but usually associated with folks who oppose using it at the workplace. Where do cell phones fit into this? Sorry, this is what's known as a long walk to the well.

I think cell phones are great. Really. I also think people have come to rely on them far too much, and use them for way too many purposes that are mere distractions. Put into the context of the driving issue, they have become quite dangerous. They also have taken the place of real human contact for a lot of users. Not to put too fine a point on it, but a multi-purpose convenience tool can essentially make you lazy if you let it. Dealing with middle school students has not convinced me either that the phones should be standard equipment in life.

Please don't leave comments about how your cell phone saved your life, or how your business couldn't function without it. I get it. I just ask for a little understanding when I say that I am not that important. I do not need to be that accessible. I have computers and phones in my home. I have computers and phones in my workplace. Virtually everyone I know has a cell phone, so what purpose is served by getting one of my own other than to say I have one? I have survived three pregnancies and births without a cell phone. Everyone involved is doing fine, thanks. And in a couple of decades of driving I have yet to experience the "stranded in the middle of nowhere in a panic" scenario that folks use to convince me that I need a cell phone. (When it does happen, boy, will I be sorry I didn't listen. There, I said it for you.)

Again, I am not opposed to them at all. The iPhone is actually very cool from what I have seen. But I just have yet to make that leap which will allow me to justify the considerable cost and hassle of owning one. Back in the early nineties I was the first and only person I knew who owned a Palm Pilot. I have bought several upgrades of that device over the years. Actually I got in trouble once at a meeting because the parent had accused me of ignoring her and playing on my calculator. I was taking notes on my Palm, but they were still quite unknown to the general public.

Each day when I come home there are perhaps seven or eight messages on the phone. I don't usually listen to them because mostly they are not for me. The people who really need me know how to reach me, or how to find me in person.

(In case you are curious, I also have avoided the following trends that dominate life for many others: smoking, the Adkins Diet, recreational drugs, liposuction, and tanning beds.)

You don't need to pity me, nor must you look away from my hideous condition. I'm quite alright with my Dell laptop, below-average phone bill, and computers and phones by the expanding millions all around me. Incidentally I have had the need, once or twice, to make a call while I was out. Here's the crazy part. I appealed to the spirit of civility around me; I asked someone if I could borrow her phone-- a total stranger!--and she was happy to let me do it. In a desperate and insane world, you sometimes have to resort to rebellious behavior to make a point. Thanks, Ned. You know how to reach me.

Live well.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is upon us in the greatest country in the world. We have much to be thankful for as a nation, even though we are struggling through a financial crisis. I have faith in our nation's leaders that they will guide us through the fog, and that once again we will persevere and resume our former greatness on the world stage. But I write today to explore for a moment just how fortunate we are, even during a relatively critical recession.

If you fly one and a half hours from Florida to the southeast, covering 1,975 miles, you will arrive in Haiti. This country, one of our neighbors in this hemisphere, is among the poorest in the world. More than eighty percent of the population lives below the poverty level. What does this mean? Poverty means that basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter can not regularly be acquired. Consider the per capita GDP, or gross domestic product. To get this number add the total dollar value of all goods and services produced in a year and divide that total by the population. Haiti's per capita GDP is $1,300 after converting into US dollars. Remember that figure is an average, so many will earn less than that amount in a year. The same figure for the USA is $43,444. The average American family will spend seven percent of their income on entertainment, over $3,000. The computer I am writing this blog entry with had a purchase price of $1,000.

Poverty exists in our own land as well, to be sure. The essential difference is, though, that in our country there is at least a theoretical possibility that an impoverished family might one day gain economic mobility and strength. The future for most Haitians today is bleak. With an average life expectancy that hovers around 50 years, the misery of poverty is relentless and fatal.

We will go on complaining about our economy, which is truly salient on a global scale, but as we fret and worry, remember our less fortunate neighbors for whom the essence of life is often beyond reach.

This Thanksgiving I will spend many quiet moments reflecting on my own blessings and bounty. I have a healthy and loving family. Type-1 diabetes is a daily reality for one of my children, but, because I am employed and have health insurance, the life-saving supplies we need are available to us. With my own strength of body and mind, I am able to provide many comforts for my family. My career gives me as much job security as any other could provide. Being an educator also provides the kind of job satisfaction that many others lack. I am helping young people to appreciate the power of learning. In our world knowledge is power. Everyone does the best he or she knows how to do; those who know more can do more.

Nothing is guaranteed. Nothing, not even tomorrow, is promised. The life that we are blessed to live in the moment is all we can be sure of. Be thankful for what you have, and then make time to appreciate and enjoy it.

Blessings be upon you.

Friday, November 14, 2008

James Bond

The Bond films, according to the earning power of movies, are the most successful franchise in cinema history. The newest films in the series have managed to do what none of the previous editions of the series could do. James Bond is finally being taken seriously by nearly everyone. Quite an improvement over many of the classic movies.

There is even early talk of Daniel Craig possibly making an Oscar run. I don't have much to write about this development other than I think it is about time this series has come of age. I love the movies for all of the reasons that have been parodied in the Austin Powers movies. But the Craig incarnation of the character seems to defy parody. It's as if the makers of the movie watched the Jason Bourne series and asked, "Why can't we do that with Bond?" After all, Bond films paved the way for all other spy and action films. Now the original spy thriller is taking the lead again.

The only question now is what comes next? The original Fleming stories are nearly used up. Can the character grow beyond his maker?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

America, Fulfilling the Dream

What a bold and emphatic statement the American voters just made! We have elected Senator Obama as our next leader, and have done so with the sound of thunder and the power of a flood. The orators and leaders of our past-- Douglass, Lincoln, King-- each expressed a desire to see equal opportunity truly find expression in society. Their words have finally been transferred into full reality away from the realm of philosophical deferment. Our nation has conjured with our collective will more than a milestone, we have illuminated a beacon of historic light. All of our past struggles have led us here, and what follows will be filtered through this new reality. In our efforts to secure our own civil rights, we always have looked for tangible signs and evidence that progress is being made. The famous firsts have been recorded and repeated and revised again and again, but still racial inequity has been the rule of the land in nearly every arena of public life.

What greater example of social progress is there than what we now have manifested in our highest national office? How many millions of children have been told by the well-meaning adults of the world that anything, even becoming president, is within reach if you just apply yourself? Now those words have been granted a bit more credence. Many writers and commentators will try now to be dismissive of a racial issue in this election. They will claim that race did not play a significant role in the outcome. But to do this diminishes the impact that this country's decision must now manage. The time is now to push harder than ever to erase the racial inequities that plague our society. We are running out of excuses.

Our new leader may possibly face the toughest future of any previous president. Expectations have been raised like never before, and so the pressure to fulfill the promises of two years of campaigning will be immense.

Where will our new leader take us?

Kyrie eleison.