American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- The first half of my life was predictable. The only upgrade my business career enjoyed over my mother's first office was an electric typewriter. Then, when the type started to print faintly, it was time for a new ribbon, inked red on the top and black on the bottom - or was it the other way around?
As I scanned my desk earlier, I realized the second half of my
life is truly ink-free. On the middle finger of my right hand, there
was always a callous from gripping my pen too tightly. It was usually
ink-stained from leaking pens. Yes, even the finest pens would
occasionally leak, spurt, drip and splatter.
A reminder of this is forever inscribed in my 8th grade autograph book: My brother Paul was signing it, and he wrote "Per Ardua Ad Astra." At the last stroke the pen jabbed the paper slightly and the ink splattered. Paul laughed when he said, "Now you'll never forget what it means: 'through adversity to the stars' - the spray looks like stars in the sky." It does, indeed, and I'll never forget it. I could never have described then what I'm doing now in this wonderful age of high technology. Nothing prepared me for it and almost everything I've learned between then and now is almost useless information. Can you imagine the dead stare you'd get if you handed a young grandchild a butcher knife and an unsharpened pencil and asked him to sharpen it for you? His eyes would go from the knife to the pencil and back again without seeing the connection between the two. Nor could I as a child have envisioned holding something smaller than a candy bar - I'm holding my cell phone - that is not only a telephone that rings for me to answer but it offers "options." I see the name and number of the person calling; I can answer or not. If I answer and someone else rings through, I can interrupt my call to answer that other call - or not.
I can play games, get the news, time and weather, take pictures and send them to some other places, maintain records, contact lists, write out messages and send them using the phone key pad as a keyboard. I can accurately figure tips in restaurants. Again, it's smaller than a candy bar. The most delicious part of this hand-held bit of high technology is that I'm in control. I can turn it off. I remember thinking how apt the saying "stop the world, I want to get off," especially on those days that were just too hard to handle. Now, I can literally stop the world just by turning off my cell phone. Whether high technology is wireless or plugged in, it's in your own hands. When we thought of the future we simply built on the past. This is the way it was, this is the way it will be - only better. We understood "better" even if we didn't know how it would be made better. What an innovation to be able to write under water; that was the only claim to fame for the ball point pen, and that was in the 1940s. Just last week I heard a commercial for a pen that would work writing upside down!
Now that's a plus. How often I tried signing for a package holding the receipt up against the door and, when the ink ran out, believing the ball point pen had run out of ink. It seems to me it's taken them a long time to work that snag out. Someone saw it as a problem; when I realized ink couldn't run up into the pen I just leaned down, balanced the receipt on my knee, and signed. There are people like me who are quite satisfied with the status quo. There are others who wish things were easier and then they come up with ways to make it so. I hated to retype things so I had to find a way to cover up mistakes. I used a cotton swab dipped into Johnson's White Shoe Polish but never thought of inventing Liquid Paper - better known as "white-out" - as Bette Nesmith did. Who, me? An inventor? Naaaah. I struggled putting on eye make-up until I found a magnifying mirror. That was invented by the wife of the late Frankie Laine, who was having the same problem. These are little advances where necessity really proves to be the mother of invention. We could say I wish there were this or that and we'd feel it would someday come. But every advance in the technological age is so far ahead of itself that potential customers sit back and wait for the next innovation to be announced and the current one to go on sale. Are we going so fast into the future that we're not having those present moments we're told to savor - stopping to smell the roses, so to speak? Generations X and Y are really into the pleasurable time with their Apple iPods as they store music, play music and marvel at all they are able to do. The device was the most sought-after gift during the holidays and now the prices are going down. We can look for the next level of portable, wireless, devices to boggle our minds before being relegated to instant obsolescence. I'm at a crossroads right now. This second half of my life has been as if I were shot out of a cannon at age 35 with hardly a moment to look around as everything started happening all at once.
New things come before we get comfortable with the old. I can buy more memory for my computers but I can't buy time for experiencing what will become memories. The first half of my life was filled with things to remember, things that were supreme in their own moments, memories I can think about and see again. Obviously not everyone is looking forward to what's up ahead; I just visited eBay and typed in "fountain pens." There were 4,190 items for sale. The buyers won't be looking for pens. What is being sought is an individual comfort zone. Holding a fountain pen like one they once used might do it for some; storing songs from the '70s in their iPod might do it for Generation X, as listening to Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" soothes me. The time when the past could conceivably be prologue is long gone. Generation Y is at its peak moment. If this whirlwind they're enjoying is any indication of the future, then - well then, nothing. I can't fathom the direction technology will take them. However, not to worry. It's all they'll know; they'll be prepared to handle whatever comes along just as I knew what to do if my pancil point broke. I was prepared. I had to get up, get the butcher knife, hold it behind my back for safety while walking, then stand over the wastebasket, where I shaved the tip of the pencil to an evenly sharpened point. I learned by watching others. Today's up-and-comers learn and speak the language of high technology. They are living through their past, and it is prologue for them at the same time. They can't look back to the era of ink-stained fingers. To some degree, just about everything they have now, they have always had.