How many times have you heard someone say that the world has changed since he was born? How many times has a sad shake of a head gone with those words? Quite a few, I’ll bet.
The trouble is, the way we feel about life depends on where we look. If we look at our crowded highways, the price of gas, or the phone bill we might very well shake our heads, but is that the whole story?
I don’t think so, Johnny, but don’t worry. I’m not going to go on about how much better off we are where things like medical care, housing, and earnings are concerned. Like you, I run every time I hear someone say, “Kids have it too easy these days. You should have seen us breaking our way through the snow to get to school. And work? Why I used to get up before dawn and ...”
The truth is there are a lot of reasons to smile when we wake up in the morning these days, but some of the best ones are so subtle we hardly notice them. In fact, there’s a subtle benefit of modern life that few of us ever think about.
It is, to give it a name, communication.
Have you given even any thought to how much your ability to stay in contact with people has changed over the past 15 years?
For example, I am writing this column on a little Mac laptop because I can sit here in the living room with Lolly, watch how she is doing, and respond in seconds to her needs. Some people would say I am trapped in this room, but am I?
With the flick of a finger I can change this machine into my own personal Western Union. I can, and do, write to friends and relatives as close as a few miles, and as far away as England, India or Australia. Every day I hear from at least four or five people, often more. I can say what I have to say, click a button, and have my thoughts before someone’s eyes in seconds. And I am less than surprised when my mail program beeps at me a few minutes later and tells me that a reply has arrived.
Think of what that would have meant to us in past years. When I left New London in 1950 I left behind 187 people I had gone to school with day in and day out for a long time. Of them, at least 20 were good friends, and another 30 or so were people I would have loved keeping in touch with. That’s not to mention the people I met at the Ocean Beach where I worked each summer, people I got to know very well — and then never saw again.
I spent two years, 10 months, and 18 days as part of an Air National Guard outfit that was called up on active duty during Korea. I was as close to 20 or 30 of those guys as I have ever been to anyone in my life, closer perhaps. I’d have given a lot to be able to keep in touch with them!
Over my 21 years in the Air Force I met, and cared about, no less than a 100 people, in no less than eight or 10 countries and at least as many states. And what? Gone. All gone. Who could write letters to that many people? Who could keep track of where they are? Of all those people, all those good friends, I am in touch with perhaps 20.
But today? If I were graduating from high school today I could easily stay in touch with my friends. Instead of shrinking to nothing every time I moved, my life would be a slowly expanding universe of names and faces, of events and ideas, of people and places!
What a terrible waste it was in my day, what a human tragedy, that life required us to give up our past each time we went off to school or took a new job. We were lucky that we could do it, of course, but we paid a high price for our American mobility.
But now, Johnny? Now?
We no longer have to shed our friends as we pack our bags, leaving behind so much of ourselves, and taking with us little more than a vague, fixed in time, memory of people we care about.
That, if nothing else, is enough for us to get down on our knees and thank the Lord for what modern technology has given us: The whole world at the click of a mouse button.
Yes, this is not the world I grew up in, Johnny.