Future Junk

Recently, the good folks at Apple sent me a letter. It said that my six-year-old iPod nano had a “slight” chance of catching fire because of the installation of potentially bad batteries in certain models. While the possibility of hot pants was remote, they said, better safe than sorry: send us your old iPod (at our expense!), and we’ll send you a brand-new, (probably) non-flammable model.

Well, slap me silly and sign me up! A new, FREE iPod! Like a kid sending cereal box tops to Battle Creek, Michigan (in return for a DELUXE plastic Army man set and secret decoder ring), I shipped off my old gizmo, and anticipated with great salivation the arrival of a new one.

When it arrived, I was amazed…and disappointed. My amazement came as the result of the size of the thing: what had once been roughly a credit card-sized electronic wonder, this new nano is about the size of a large postage stamp. (I suppose I should explain to our younger readers what a “postage stamp” is. Long ago, you used to have to go to a building called a “post office,” where you could purchase small, colorful, adhesive-backed pieces of paper—they were about the size of an iPod nano, to give you an idea of their dimensions—called “stamps.” You would affix these “stamps” to paper things called “letters,” which were…oh, never mind. You don’t really care, do you?)

And of course this one does MUCH more than the old one: besides play music, it’ll tell you the time in all time zones, it’ll save hundreds of pictures, it’ll change the oil in your car (I’m sure that’s coming).

But here’s something it WON’T do: it WON’T fit into all the gadgets I bought for the “old” one: docking stations, external speakers, and the like. So, once again, advancing technology has rendered all that came before obsolete…and useless. Thus my disappointment…in technology…again.

I always swore that I’d never become one of those “why, in MY day” old fogeys. But this relentless march of technological “progress” continues to leave me frustrated, bewildered, and, well, almost nostalgic.

Take phones, for instance.

I grew up on a cattle farm in central Georgia. Not long before I came along, rural telephones were often rigged up on what were called “party lines,” although I don’t know why they were called that, given that, to my knowledge, no one ever had a party on or with one. No, a “party line” was several—up to eight or ten, if I recall correctly—folks’ telephone lines on one “wire,” as it were. It wasn’t uncommon to pick up your phone to make a call, and instead of a dial tone, someone would be talking, so you’d have to “wait your turn:” that is, wait until the other “party” (that’s where the term came from, I guess) got off their phone before you could use yours. YOUR home’s phone also had a distinctive ring…say, one short and two long rings, as opposed to the folks down the road, whose ring was three shorts, or even further along, one long, one short, one long, one short. You could tell who the call was for by listening to the rings…an old-days form of caller ID, I reckon. (“Dang it, someone’s calling Edna Ruth’s number AGAIN…I swan, that woman can show ‘nuff TALK.”)

By the time I got to this world, party lines had pretty much gone away out in the hinterlands. But I can still remember a time when we only had to dial four numbers to reach someone in our county. And when I say “dial,” I most certainly mean DIAL…as in, a rotary phone. (I suppose I should explain to our younger readers what a “rotary phone” is…or was. A rotary phone was a piece of plastic about the size of a small shoe box, usually black, connected by a wire to the wall, which had a clear plastic round thing, about the size of a CD, on the front, and you’d…oh, never mind. Again with the apathy, huh?)

And Lord help you if you ever had to make, or if you ever received…a LONG-DISTANCE CALL. If the call were to (or from) more than, say, 50 miles away, you’d have thought it was an event as important and life-changing as the birth of a child (or, in my case, a calf). “Hurry, up, Mama, it’s Uncle Jake from North Carolina…it’s LONG DISTANCE!!” I don’t remember how much long-distance telephone charges were back then, but they must’ve been so dear that delaying even a SECOND would result in a serious financial setback. (“I’m sorry, honey, but we won’t be able to eat this week, because your daddy took so long on that LONG DISTANCE call from Raleigh last week.”)

But here’s the thing…despite all that, that same telephone, that squat, slow, ugly device, did its job, served its purpose, provided instant (or as instant as we could get back then) communication, for years and years…decades, even. The notion of replacing it every six months with something newer, sleeker, faster, fancier…well, such an idea was just preposterous. Indeed, I doubt ANYONE ever even HAD such a thought. Because it was a telephone—THE telephone—for goodness’ sake. Why would we EVER need to change the TELEPHONE? Of all the silly things….

There’s more, but you’ll have to excuse me…it’s Uncle Jake, and it’s LONG DISTANCE.

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Photo: Licensed by LikeTheDew.com from 123RF Stock Photo
Richard Eisel

Richard Eisel

Richard Eisel lives in Georgia. Besides writing, he enjoys reading, sailing, and baseball. He has been working on his first novel for about thirty years.  So far, he has written three paragraphs, but they are really good paragraphs.