Living For 80 Years Means A Lot More Today Than It Used To, Part Ii

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Last week we talked about how even the most wild-eyed science-fiction fan back in 1939 would not have dared to predict that some of the changes we have seen in recent years arrive here so soon. There is no doubt about it; the rate of change is accelerating. Why? We have seen more change in information technology in the past 15 years than we saw in the 10,000 years that preceded them. 

Be honest. In 1998 — the year Lolly and I moved up here to the Rim Country and started work on our little love nest — do you think that either one of us would have imagined that anyone could have done something like the thing I am about to mention?

A few weeks ago we received an email from a cousin in Australia about a new house her family had bought — new to them anyway. Curious what it looked like, I went online. Within 60 seconds I had it on my screen. Back in 1998 — not exactly ancient history — would we have dreamed that such a thing would be possible so soon? Or that we take it for granted?

I’ve been reading a pair of books set in India. One is Jim Corbett’s wonderful, “Man-Eaters of Kumaon,” a book written in 1943 by a man who may have loved simple villagers enough to place his life on the line many times to stop man-eating tigers from carrying off their favorite prey — a helpless young woman cutting brush or leaves to feed cattle — but who also loved the tigers too, and sincerely regretted what he had to do.

The other book is Matilda Churchill’s humble story of a lifetime spent as a missionary in India, “Letters from My Home in India.” It recounts her 45 years in India between 1871 and 1916, and is a warm, inspiring book. 

Both books are on one of my computers, which has a fine e-reader on it that lets me read any of the 545 books I have downloaded for it. I am enjoying those two books at the same time, switching back and forth from one to the other — and occasionally reading something else too. I’m a bit partial to mystery stories.

A few nights ago I suddenly realized that I had developed a habit my fourth-grade teacher despaired of ever teaching us — I was looking up every single word I didn’t know. And, I realized, that applied to places too. My! My! Miss Williams (they were all “Miss” back then) would have been proud of me!

Jim Corbett spoke of being careful about a snake called a hamadryad. I casually copied the word with a stroke of my mouse, pasted it into an open browser sitting beside my e-reader, learned that it was another name for the king cobra, that the king cobra is not really a cobra, and that one dose of its venom is enough to kill an elephant or 20 to 40 humans. And I was back to my reading in less time than it took to tell you about it — and agreeing with Jim Corbett that caution was not a bad idea!

While reading Matilda Churchill’s description of the view of the Bay of Bengal from her window I casually clicked on Google Earth, entered the name of the place where she was located, and watched the earth spin on my screen. Not more than 15 seconds later I was looking at the same view.

A week earlier I was thinking about our old house in New London, which was torn down during over enthusiasm for “redevelopment” now sorely regretted by the town. Saddened because I never had a chance to photograph that beautiful old Victorian, I casually went online and entered “220 Huntington St.” To my utter amazement, just a few minutes later I was the owner of a high-resolution image of a postcard sent by one Anne Perry to a friend in Baltimore, Md. — in 1909! She talked about how glad she was to be home again at “220 Huntington Street.” On the other side of the card was a magnificent photograph of our house. And just to sweeten the pot I looked up the genealogy of Anne and her family from 1870 to 1940.

Can you imagine what it would have taken to do that just 15 years ago? It would have taken years of exhausting and frustrating footwork to turn up that postcard — if it could be done at all. And who knows how long it would have taken to do the genealogy work? I did it all in a few casual hours, sitting in a recliner and enjoying every moment of it!

All this has made me think.

Brace yourself, Johnny. When I tell you what I think is coming — and when — you may decide that I am totally out of my mind.

Well, that’s a debatable point anyway, so see you next week.

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