Saturday, October 1, 2011

Time Marches On Without Me

A lot of the cursing you hear these days is from people bemoaning the demise of cursive writing. Indiana no longer requires schools to teach cursive, and several other states are reducing the amount of time schools must spend teaching it. In this age of computers and electronic tablets, pen-and-paper skills are assumed to be passé. The 21st Century teenager seldom if ever writes in cursive, and apparently more than a few cannot read the notes Grandma includes with their birthday cards. Of course, for the last fifty-five years, people have been cursing my attempts at cursive and claiming they can't read them. But a quick survey of the fonts available in my standard issue Microsoft Word reveals five cursive options. So what's the big deal?

The big deal is the decline of cursive writing is further evidence that I am antiquated. The world wasn't always this way. If a man from ancient Rome suddenly found himself in New York in 1800, life would have been much the same as the life he knew in the city of Romulus and Remus. He'd be surprised to discover that he didn't fall off the end of the earth on his way to New York, of course, and the printing press and gunpowder would be new to him. Otherwise, the skills he needed to get through the day in New York at the start of the 19th Century differed little from ones he had learned in Rome.

I am not, it should be noted, a Luddite. Progress and innovation are often good things. For instance, typing is one of 20th Century skills I never mastered, and I am, therefore, eternally grateful for the computer and its word processing capabilities. I don't type any better than I did in 1970, but my mistakes, assuming I can spot them, are so much easier to correct. The truth is, I am now of the opinion that the best thing to use on a Smith Corona is a Smith and Wesson.

But as a youngster, back when our phone number was COlonial 3-8944, back before it became TEnnyson 5-8944 and then the prosaic 835-8944, I mastered the rotary-dial telephone. And forty years later, in the final decade of the 20th century, I saw no reason why that skill wouldn't serve me well for the rest of my life. Some of this was the product of miserliness: the phone company provided a rotary-dial phone; we would have needed to purchase a touch-tone phone. This satisfied feeling ended the day a nephew visiting from Georgia went to make a phone call at our house and asked, "How do you work this thing?"

Map reading was once a useful skill. The intrepid traveler pulled out his road map to figure out where he was and how to get to where he wanted to be. That was the easy part. The real difficulty was folding the map properly when I was done so it would fit neatly into the glove compartment. Now there is the GPS, with its computer-generated voice that sounds like an impatient mother who isn't quite sure if her son is being uncooperative or if he's just not all that smart.

The ability to make change was also necessary skill. But what good is it now with the fancy-schamcy cash registers that tell the clerk how much change is due the customer and remind the clerk to tell the customer to have a nice day? Although, it is fun to see the deer-in-the-headlight look come over the clerk's face when you don't have the correct change and the computer isn't working.

Everywhere I look there is evidence of things changing more rapidly than I. Even in the newspaper, which is also well on its way to becoming a relic, there are reminders of my archaic life. Most of them can be found in the celebrity news column. There are days, sometimes several days in a row, when all the celebrity news is about celebrities I've never heard of. And most of the time when there is a familiar name, it is to mark a birthday beginning with a digit higher than seven, or to make note of some former star's decent into senility.

Grandma always said, "It's hell getting old." Well, I'm not getting older I'm just getting a little less young. It's the world around me that's getting younger, and I wish it would stop reminding me of it. And if you hear me cursing, that's why.

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