Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Embrace The Future Without Strangling The Past

     So the Christmas shopping frenzy is coming to a peak and one thing is painfully obvious... society's addiction to technology has far surpassed the tipping point.  There is no going back now.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those misguided romantics who actually think that torchlight and outhouses were the "good ol' times".  Indoor lighting, heat and air, automobiles, television and computers, toilet paper... the list of items we rely on daily could go on forever.  But you have to admit that every now and then it feels sooo good to open the blinds and windows for natural light and fresh air.  Jumping on a bicycle instead of driving the car for a short trip.  A television can never replace the feeling of a live concert or walk in the woods.  And honestly, who doesn't like a hand written letter?  Instead of toilet paper one could.... well, never mind.  That's one advancement I'll never hold a grudge against!  Fact is, we actually see doing something "the old way" as a treat.  Homemade cooking, camping, riding a horse, a bike ride, making functional pottery, a garden; all things that were once part of daily life for previous generations.  And we consider them recreation?  A reprieve from our daily lives?  I thought technology made our lives easier, less hectic.  Perhaps it's time to re-evaluate.

     I realize I'm using a computer to write this as well as a complicated network to pass it along, but at one time a wood club was a huge advancement over a bare fist in warfare and courting a mate.  What concerns me is how we have a tendency to shun common sense in the pursuit of anything new.  I know every one of you believe you are the only person actually capable of driving while on the phone or texting; sure, keep convincing yourself of that.  But what did you do ten, fifteen years ago?  Pull over and send an emergency smoke signal to your spouse about how you think pizza would be good for dinner?  Remember life without navigation in the car, and we had to read those pesky road signs?  Oh the horrors!  Bet you can't hold a five minute conversation with a friend without one of you having to answer a call or check a page at least once.  What a strange coincidence that blood pressure and anxiety prescriptions are at an all time high! 

     Time to relax, read a book, or a Nook, or tablet, or your phone, or your..... really?!?  I realize how popular all these devices are and many of you have them.  But do you seriously want to abandon the written word?  Sure you can store hundreds of "books" on a tablet.  Then someone steals it, or you drop it, dog pees on it, or surprise, a glitch! (That NEVER happens with electronics!)  A friend recently dropped his phone off the table and lost EVERYTHING.  It automatically rebooted and erased every last bit of information stored in there.  Now imagine the Dead Sea scrolls being deleted.  "What Bible, Ahab?  Oh, that thing.  It didn't translate well onto our new version of papyrus V.2, so we scrapped it."  Rosetta Stone? Old news.  "Thomas, we don't need to write the Constitution down on paper, we won't forget what it says."  The known history of mankind only exist because someone took the time to WRITE IT DOWN!  It's been chiseled in stone, written on hide and paper, documented and cataloged for all future generations.  And we want to trust the same device that pocket dials Tokyo during peak rate hours with all our vital information?    

     It's too late to go back now.  Heck, I can carry my entire CD collection in my pocket, and that's pretty cool.  But I still have the CD collection!  Take THAT, information cloud!  All I ask is that this Christmas, after you wire up the new flat screen, load up your mp3 player, isolate yourself from society by playing that new video game, or download the "You with a mustache" app on your new phone, that you step back and take a breath.  Think of how you actually did survive without all this stuff in the not so distant past.  Open the blinds, take a walk, eat some cookies out of your oven, not a bag.  Better yet, go to the library and check out a book.  An honest to goodness book with pages and everything!  Cozy up to it.  Book mark the page when you put it down.  Appreciate the importance of the written word.  A defining invention in man's history that we are in danger of forgetting. 

     Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year to all! 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Community Christmas Trees and the Spirit of Rock-and-Roll

     Cindy and I chose a smaller town to live in because we felt the city lacked a sense of  "community".  We wanted to be part of the town, not just living in the town.  What a small town lacks in storefronts and ammenities, it more than makes up for in character and personality.  Seldom is this more on display than during Christmas time.

     One of the biggest draws for us to move to Oak Ridge was the art and culture that permeates throughout the town.  I'm not talking endless galleries and theaters like you might find in Santa Fe or Ashville.  No, the arts in Oak Ridge are more "by the people" than "for the people".  The Art Center is a public facility where you can learn how to do just about any fine art or craft in a weekly class or weekend workshop.  Generations of artists come there to teach and learn from one another.  We have a fantastic group of actors that perform in tiny historic theaters year round .  There are dance groups, choirs, orchestra, and a community band second to none!   Cindy lends her percussion expertees to the band, while I am involved with activities at the Art Center.  We are once again proud to be part of a community, I believe, because we are truely part of the community.  This brings us to Friday night.

       This past Friday was the annual lighting of the community Christams tree.  It sits on a prominent corner in town at the edge of the main city park.  The property also contains our library, civic center, recreation center, and outdoor performance pavilion.  So after the tree was to be lit, everyone was to gather for music and cookies in the rec center.  Hundreds of people gathered around the tree buzzing with anticipation.  Well, actually the buzzing may have been the sound of chattering teeth, for it was quite chilly out.  The microphone didn't work, eliminating the need for the handful of local dignitaries to drag out the cerimony any longer than neccesary.  Finally the croud counted down... TEN...NINE...EIGHT...(I wonder if anyone did a test run?) SEVEN...SIX...FIVE...(Just saying, it would be kinda' funny if after all this...)FOUR...THREE...TWO...(LIGHT!  LIGHT!!)ONE!!!  Nothing.  I jinxed it!  Oh crud, hope nobody can read minds.  Wait, seriously?  Nobody tried this out before the croud gathered?  Nobody was assigned to stand guard over the plug? Had we elected Chevy Chase as our Mayor while I wasn't looking? As overdressed dignitaries held cell phones toward the ground  searching for the power cord, and members of the crowd shouted helpful tips like, "Try the cord!",  the children had figured out that you simply had to continue counting down from ten, over and over again, to trigger the display to life.    Finally, the tree came to life, followed by a rousing cheer.  It was time for some music!

     The music for the evening was provided by a local grade school choir, a Junior High orchestra ensamble, and the community band.  All three groups did quite well, but I was intrigued the most by the singing grade school kids.  There were about sixty of them and the song selection was anything but simple.  The directer did a fantastic job keeping them focused and professional.  Yet I couldn't ignore that a few of the kids just had the spirit in them.  One girl was positioned in the back row on the very edge, most likely because she moved four feet in any direction while dancing;  be there music or not!  Another little fellow had a new facial expression for each and every word out of his mouth.  But the highlight of the evening came at the very last note, of the very last song, called " Peace! ".  The smallest boy in the back row, who had behaved perfectly all night, THRUST his fists and arms up in the air, fanned slightly to the side, and held them there like a rock and roll icon!  "YES"  He had done it! "YES...YES!!!"  It was the most authentic display of self gratification I have ever witnessed in my life.  he didn't look for accolades, praise, or a cheap laugh from the crowd.  He had done it.  And dang-it, he was celabrating!  Eyes closed, chin down, and fists up!   Rock on little buddy, rock on!

    In the coming year I encourage you to become a part of your community.  Join a community band, teach a class, become a volunteer firefighter, help clean up a stream or roadway.  And when you're done?  Hands up, head down, and soak it all in.    Enjoy!