Getting “With It”

I just flunked my “app”-titude test! My grandson, his wife and my two great-granddaughters recently came from San Antonio to visit, armed with their “cool” electronic gear, loaded with “apps” that made my little flip phone look like an antique. They said, “Grandpa, you need a new phone!” I told them, “No. This one’s good. I just learned that Cowboys’ Owner Jerry Jones carries a flip phone just like mine, so I’m happy with it.”

My great-grandchildren’s visit made me realize just how far behind this old grandpa is and how far technology has advanced in the last few years. As my teenage great-granddaughter, Mercedes, and I sat at the breakfast table drinking coffee and visiting, I glanced at the newspaper and saw India had been ravaged by a cyclone. I asked Mercedes if she knew the difference between a cyclone and a tornado. She didn’t, but with a few taps on her smartphone, she soon had the answer, which, “back in the day,” would have taken several minutes of perusing the dictionary or the trusty, old encyclopedia.

Later, 5-year-old “K. B.” joined us and gave me a lesson on how to play games on her iPad. As the kids explained to me the many features of their smartphones, iPads and tablets, my mind wandered, as it’s prone to do, back to my growing up days. I told them my first “cell phone” consisted of two tin cans joined by a tightly stretched 25-foot fishing cord (it really worked). And, I continued by telling them that when I was 9, my buddy, Jack Thomas, and I strung a wire along the fence between our houses, connected head phones to each end of the wire, and, with two ground wires, we had a telephone powered by nothing but the earth’s energy. Yes, it worked much better than the tin cans.

I told them the first real telephone my parents had was a wall mounted, hand-cranked instrument that came with a live operator called “Central.” When we turned the crank, she answered magically with a cheery, “Number please,” before connecting us with our requested party. A few years later, Central was replaced with a much more impersonal rotary dial phone. Then, we graduated to the faster push-button dial instrument before going to the cordless and finally to cell phones.

The girls listened patiently to my story, wondering if it was true, or just another of my tall tales like the one about having to walk a mile to and from school — uphill both ways. Mercedes said, “Look grandpa, I can get music on my phone. Can your phone do that?” She already knew the answer, but I shook my head sheepishly and said, “No, but that reminds me of a radio story,” and I was off on another history lesson. “I was only 10-years-old when I made my first radio – a crystal set. It too was powered by the earth’s energy, and by a mysterious little piece of crystal. With headphones, we could hear two Dallas stations, WRR and WFAA. A year or so later, my parents bought a battery-powered radio, and we sat quietly with headphones “glued” to our ears, listening to our favorite shows. It was in 1933 when we got our first “loud speaker” radio and gladly discarded our old headphones.”

I could have told them that my 92-year-old eyes have seen “home music” go from my grandparents’ foot-pumped player piano to hand-cranked phonographs playing those big 78 speed records to record players with 33 and 45 rpm records. Then, we went from eight track players, cassettes and finally to today’s CDs and iPods. I could have told them that, but they were too absorbed in texting their friends to listen.

Grandson, Shane, joined the group and asked, “Grandpa, do you text?” I told him “No. I can talk faster than I can move my thumbs, so I don’t bother texting.”

He asked, “Well, do you tweet or Twitter?” I said, “Not that I’ve noticed – you know my hearing’s not too good – but I do tend to grunt and groan a lot.” With that, he gave up and decided to show me some features of his smartphone.

He said, “Look, I can pull up a map of Frisco, ask my phone to direct me from here to my home in San Antonio or to anywhere I want to go. I can connect to the Internet or watch a TV show.”

I muttered, “That’s amazing. Did I ever tell you about my first television set?” He politely shook his head and listened as I rambled on. “In 1952 we paid $400 for a 17-inch, black and white set. We lived in East Texas; about 100 miles from the nearest television station, and had to have a tall antenna with a rotator to point it toward either Dallas or Shreveport. There were no remote controls, so we got our exercise walking to and from the set making adjustments.

He said, “That’s interesting, but you really do need a new phone.” Then he began to enumerate the myriad of things today’s personal electronic devices (PEDs) have replaced, or are beginning to replace –starting with typewriters and adding machines. Remember them?

Our thoughts went to personal computers with their Internet capabilities. Correspondence by email, Facebook and Skype is rapidly replacing the ancient art of letter writing, thereby threatening to put post cards and postage stamps on the endangered list, and e-cards are crowding the greeting card business.

Many have cancelled their land line phones in favor of the more versatile cell phones, which can replace alarm clocks, flashlights, compasses, road maps, egg timers, calculators, wrist watches, filing cabinets, Roll-a-Decks, old fashioned calendars and even cameras and photo albums. Grandmas no longer need to load their purses with pictures of their “little darlings.” Those things are at their fingertips – on their phones.

Old-fashioned toys are being replaced by electronic toys, which, by the way, are taking the place of baby sitters. They’re certainly holding the attention of our youth – as well as our adults. Good conversation around the family dinner table – and in restaurants – is suffering as we play with our electronic gadgets.

For some, PEDs have taken the place of their morning newspapers, television and radio news programs. Some never darken the doors of a bank. They bank and pay their bills online. My daughter-in-law, Marilyn, not only shops online, she also gets her coupons electronically.

Magazines and books of all kinds, even schoolbooks, are available electronically. I was surprised in church when the pastor said, “Open your Bibles to the book of Genesis, and some of my neighboring worshippers reached for their electronic Bibles. I’m still not sure they’re “Biblical.”

I was amazed when Shane spoke into his phone, asking for his favorite football team’s schedule and getting audible answers from some distant “know it all.” Makes me wonder what else that “voice” knows about us.

Yes, I learned a lot from my grandkids that day, but, I warned them that, “All that glitters is not gold. There are dangers involved with overuse of electronic toys. For example, DWT (driving while texting) is replacing DWI as a cause of serious accidents.”

My son, Phil, chimed in and said, “But Dad, your phone is so outdated.” I thought a minute and said, “Okay kids, having weighed the good and bad, you have convinced me – I need to get with it. As soon as they invent an app for ‘common sense’ and perfect the Dick Tracy wrist radiophone, I’ll trade my trusty flip phone in for one. O.K.?”

With that, they all turned and started texting – probably to each other.