Technology and Me


Technology and Me


In my childhood of the 1950s, blackberry and apple were fruits my mother baked into delicious pies. The term 5G was merely an apartment number or short for $5,000. Now 5G incites people into torching cell phone towers. A text was a hardcover school book. In first grade, my friend Donna lost part of her hearing from a virus. Tablet? That was the name of the Catholic publication in New York City. An app was the beginning of the word application. How did I survive without posting selfies? Not only did I turn out to be a reasonably intelligent person who earned two college degrees without the benefit of technology but I found results of 3,456 x 4,738 by hand. In college, calculators were ripped from our hands. Students took notes with pen and paper. Some teachers closed the door at the sound of the bell. Late arriving students, even if only by five seconds, missed the entire class. That was our tough luck. Smoking, though, was permitted in college. Imagine that? Cigarette smokers could light up almost everywhere back then, even in hospitals, movie theaters, airplanes, and restaurants. Hospital gift shops even sold cigarettes.

I made calls on a rotary phone. Oh, the joy of hanging up on my boyfriend after an argument. As a child visiting a family in rural Alabama, I was mesmerized by the party line. I listened in on calls until my grandmother ended my shenanigans. I never did find out if Mrs. Spivey left her philandering husband. My mother ordered our clothes from the Spiegel catalog or we took a walk down Steinway Street, the main shopping street in our Astoria NY neighborhood. There were no big box stores. Social networking was sitting in a park or playing games like checkers. Older kids passed around a six-pack. The country kids networked at campsites. I was the remote control on the black and white television set, getting up to change channels if my dad didn’t like what was on the tube. Neighborhood kids biked instead of playing with an X-box. I don’t remember school buses so we just walked in the rain, cold, snow, or whatever. For school papers, I always had an ample supply of White-Out because my peck and hunt typing skills were dreadful. I was adept at cutting and pasting. We wrote then mailed letters and cards to our friends and families. The post office was timely and efficient at one time.

Before our family acquired a television set, I listened to radio broadcasts. As a kid, I was already a news junkie. I tuned into short-wave radio stations in Africa, wondering what life was like in such far-flung places of Nairobi, Cape Town, Algiers, and Casablanca. To expand my knowledge, I devoured geography books at the public library and looked up information about foreign nations so I knew where these places were, wondering if I’d ever get there. So far, I haven’t but there’s always hope in my twilight years. In class, we studied maps in our geography textbooks and answered questions about other people and places when teachers asked. Today’s students are sometimes plunked behind computers for online education, more so because of COVID-19. The idea of homeschooling makes me shiver. I would’ve missed horsing around the schoolyard with my friends. I enjoyed the walk to school even with my dumpy brother. Cafeteria food like oily pizza often turned up my nose but eating with my friends was fun. The classroom discussions were invigorating, making me think about new and different ideas and social issues. Legislatures never interfered with what we learned. I don’t think they even knew or cared what we learned. I met new friends all the time. The way today’s students learn is so different from my era. A research paper is often compiled from internet sources, not all of which are reliable or accurate. Years ago, assignments were completed in the library by using thick reference books with data about geography, current events, world news, and just about everything. There were stacks of newspapers, magazines, and encyclopedias that we copied for maybe a nickel a page. On Saturday afternoons (closed on Sunday) the public library was packed with young people checking out books, studying for tests, or doing research. A library staff member helped us dig up obscure facts or figures.

Technology brought a seismic shift in the way we live. Take books as an example. Books can now be downloaded and read on a device called the Kindle. So can newspapers, magazines and other periodicals. Ecologically, it saves paper and spares a tree. For money-strapped readers, it’s cheaper. On the other hand, e-books helped crash the bookstore chain, Borders Books and Music, and other independent bookstores. Newspapers couldn’t escape the heat either. How can they compete with the internet giants? Newsprint costs money as does delivery. Prior to the internet’s rapid spread, nearly all medium and large cities had at least two daily papers. New York City had three. Smaller cities at least had a weekly. Now, most big cities are down to one or even none. Many weeklies fizzled. Even Pulitzer Prize-winning papers folded. Thousands of reporters, editors, book store managers, and other newspaper workers were booted out of jobs because of the internet. Even my writing career suffered as a result. Admittedly, some unemployed workers entered retraining programs and found jobs but the internet altered how we get our news. Sadly, the days of Walter Cronkite, Mr. Reliable, are in the past. Fact-checking is rare. The internet is loaded with biased, false, and misleading sources that are taken as factual by poorly informed readers who demean the work of esteemed scientists and physicians, some of whom received prominent awards. These days, news that vaccines are evil, the equivalent of terrorism, clogs the internet. Can you imagine that in the midst of a pandemic? In my day, everyone was vaccinated. I’d never even heard of the term, autism, until much later in life. What was gluten-free? No one in my generation, at least that I can remember, had peanut allergies or attention deficit disorder. What was that anyway?

Online shopping has become a breeze. Whip out the laptop or the i-phone, credit card and order blouses, books, or even a purebred puppy. The internet lets your fingers shop when it comes to almost anything. Amazon trucks are ever-present all over the world. It seems they keep multiplying like a nest of roaches.

Make a call to a bank or government agency? Good luck reaching a human on the phone. Want a hotel reservation? Unless you have a smartphone, laptop or Ipad, good luck getting one. I volunteer at an airport and some passengers still don’t understand that Uber and Lyft are only available through i phones. Everything it seems has an “app.”

Internet shopping may be quick and convenient but it lacks human touches found in brick and mortar stores. You can’t try on a dress and ask your friends, “How does this look?” If an item doesn’t fit, there’s time and postage for returns, canceling out savings. On-line snatches away the chance to plop down from exhaustion in the mall food court after a day or walking from store to store. If you shop online, where’s the chance to pack away a tossed green salad or grilled cheese sandwich with your friends or family after a day of shopping? On the internet, you’ll never run into your cousin at Macy’s and have a laugh or two. Online shopping may be safer and popular today because of COVID. It may sound cost-effective too but it’ll never take the place of human interaction at the mall, strolling down Fifth Avenue, the downtown area or wherever people gather.

I have a particular fondness for department stores. I worked in Macy’s flagship Manhattan store from 1970-1972 as a high school student. In the basement known there was a restaurant known as the Dutch Treat. The smell of the greasy burgers was hardly a treat but I enjoyed the camaraderie among my co-workers, mostly teens like me. A waitress, I worked there after school and on Saturdays, hustling for tips, earning about $35 a week. Our salary, paid in cash, came in a small brown envelope. Hardly anything was open on Sunday except for gas stations or convenience stores. Maybe once or twice a week department stores remained open until 9 p.m.

Amazon is a giant, a behemoth worth billions. They sell everything at the cheapest possible price and employ thousands of employees worldwide. Their warehouses are the model of efficiency, squeezing out every last dollar from tired, harried workers. The founder is now the world’s wealthiest man. As big and bold as they are, Amazon or online stores cannot sweep away the human touch. Maybe I’m old-fashioned or a hold-out, but I like it when I hear a real person on the phone, a near impossibility these days. Even doctor’s offices caved into technology. A robotic voice from my doctor’s office calls me with laboratory or x-ray results. The office workers can’t be bothered to call me any longer. At least my veterinarian calls me back if I have a concern about my dog. A human being answers the phone at my vet’s office. I like that.

After reading this, you may think I abhor technology. Not at all. I have Facebook and Instagram accounts. I use Twitter now and then. Facebook knows every like button I ever hit. I guess Twitter and Instagram know who I voted for in the last election. I hope they also know how much I love animals, books, and a good laugh. I love my laptop. I will always prefer shopping at the mall, in small stores, or at local festivals. I enjoy reading real books and the feel of turning the pages. Due to financial constraints, I get most of my books from the public library or from second-hand shops. I have an Android cell phone because I cannot afford Apple products. They’re out of my price range. I recognize the good and bad of technology. It’s helped bring people around the world together for worthy causes. Unwanted dogs and cats find new homes much faster. On the other hand, the internet serves as a mouthpiece for gasbags to spread hatred and venom of bigoted blowhards and their narrow-minded following. Totally unreliable and false news reports spread like wildfire and are taken as credible, sometimes with disastrous results. Life-saving vaccines are seen as harmful. Children are so addicted to the technology they rarely go outside to play games or interact with neighborhood children. There’s been a spike in childhood obesity as a result. I consider it rude when I’m having a conversation with someone who sends a text message or suddenly takes a selfie? What happened to common courtesy?

I’m glad to be a senior. I don’t want to live in a world without books or hear any more nonsense that climate change is a hoax. The anti-vaxxers are a disgrace to science and medicine. Department stores may end up closing. Cities and towns are already burdened with dozens of empty big box stores, wondering what to do with them. As for the department stores that remain open, I hope they survive. At least I can browse around the aisles at Macy’s or Dillard’s and talk to people. I can’t do that with online shopping. I’m not fond of online education either but COVID-19 made that mandatory in many cases. I bet a lot of students will be delighted to return to the classroom. I surely would have been.

A computer cannot take the place of walking to school with the kid around the corner. A computer cannot replace eating lunch with your classmates or playing tag in the schoolyard. A computer cannot take the place of laughing or crying with your friends over lunch in high school or college. Am I biased about online education? You betcha I am. I have many fond memories of attending school before guns, bullies, and a lethal virus that disrupted the educational experience. I’m sorry that in today’s world home school may be the only option because the proliferation of guns makes it unsafe for children to acquire an education. There will be another pandemic for which I hope we’re better prepared for.

As a society, we cannot let technology rob our ability to be human. A smartphone, artificial intelligence, and a computer can perform many functions but they can’t give love or extend compassion. Neither can Alexa nor Siri.



Debra J. White


A pedestrian-car accident in 1994 left Debra with a traumatic brain injury that impaired both her memory and mobility. At the end of a long recovery, she re-invented herself since her social work career was over. An award-winning free-lance writer she wrote for publications like Dog Fancy, the Bark, Animal Wellness, Arizona Republic, Sierra Club's magazine, Latham Letter, Animal Sheltering, Phoenix Business Journal, Social Work, Fostering Families, Airports of the World, American Jails, Psychology Today, Landscape Management, Literary Yard, Potato Soup Journal and others. She reviewed books for Animal People, contributed a chapter to Dogs and the Women Who Love Them and wrote a book for TFH Publications. She reported for the AZ Muslim Voice. Her volunteer work included serving in animal shelters, pet therapy, Sky Harbor airport, teaching English to refugees, children’s reading program, office of former AZ Gov. Napolitano, and more.


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