Sunday, May 20, 2012

Harry Truman and cell phones

I'm reading this great book called, "Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure".  In January, 1953, Harry Truman went home to Missouri after 8 years as President.  He was an ex-President at a time when the government didn't provide them with a pension, office staff, or Secret Service protection.  An invitation to speak at a convention in Philadelphia gave him the idea for he and Bess to drive across half the country alone and unannounced, just two people on a summer vacation.  I can't tell you how it ends because, right now where I am in the book, they're only in Decatur, Illinois.

In researching the book, the author, Matthew Algeo, tried to retrace the trip, stopping in the towns and places the Trumans did.  One restaurant, though, was long gone; replaced by a McDonald's.  As the author sat and ate he endured what we've all had to: someone sitting alone talking loudly on a cell phone.  He wrote this:
"It made me wonder what Harry Truman would think of cell phones.  A nineteenth-century man stuck in the twentieth, Harry was a bit of a Luddite.  He didn't like using the telephone.  He wrote letters instead.  And he wrote them in longhand, with a distinctive slashing script.  Even the typewriter was a technology he could not bring himself to adopt.
The cell phone would not have suited Harry's personality.  He was preternaturally affable and thrived on human interaction.  He liked being around people.  The human race, he once said, was an 'excellent outfit.'  Whether playing poker with his cronies or riding in the car with Bess, conversation - face to face - was his raison d'être.  A cell phone isolates its user from those around him.  That's why people on cell phones are comfortable discussing, for example, the explicit details of a doctor's appointment in a roomful of total strangers.  They feel like they're alone.
I think it's safe to assume that Harry Truman would detest cell phones."
When I was elementary school-aged, the calculator came out and could be bought in the electronics sections of Korvettes, Two-Guys, A&S, etc.  We marveled at these digital adding machines, but weren't allowed to use them in school.  If we did, we'd never learn how to do basic math functions.  It made sense, and we knew it.  Sometime since then it was decided that children can use calculators whenever they wanted.  Today, the ones old enough to work a cash register at Taco Bell can't make change unless the machine tells them how much to give.

We're only now starting to see what cell phones and text messaging and Wii and Facebook and Twitter is doing to society.  We're losing the ability to make conversation, letter writing, eye contact, the ability to spell and properly form sentences, and think about something for more than one minute.  Children play games almost exclusively on the computer, so they're more obese than ever.  Plus, we're addicted to the internet.  Don't think so?  Turn your cell phone off for a day.  I'm honestly afraid to try it.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

I already liked Truman, but learning of his Luddite streak makes him even more appealing.