As a kid I was completely baffled by the transistor radio. I would turn it over and examine each side, much like a chimpanzee might study a locked suitcase or a dog sniffs around to find the beef jerky hidden in your pocket. I played with the dials, maneuvered the antenna, changed the frequency. Try as I might I never understood how a plastic box could capture sound waves traveling invisibly through the atmosphere and turn them into the sweet stylings of The Jackson 5.
I haven’t progressed much since then. I would make an aboriginal tribe look like a team of Microsoft engineers. I don’t know which knobs go with which burner on my stove. Elevators leave me with my mouth agape. Forget the Philae rocket, I can’t even tell you how my seat heater works.
The pace of advancement is staggering. Just yesterday I was made aware of bacon flavored Ritz crackers. Technology has left me gorging in its wake.
My daughter recently found an iPhone app for Algebra. Take a picture of the problem and the answer will appear. In 1980 I used a first generation app to solve algebra problems. I called my app “Paul Hawkins.”
My dad wasn’t much of a high tech guy. I did hear him speak once of checking his Give-A-Shit-O-Meter when I told him I was going to skip college and join a traveling jazz band. Apparently it was running low that day. He also had a fairly reliable “bullshit detector” he used nearly every Sunday morning during my high school years to ferret out my Saturday night meanderings.
The only invention for which I can take credit is the “Snack Rack (TM).” In college, I duct taped a lucite envelope holder to the dash of my car to hold my Taco Bell burrito while I drove. The cup holder was for my Busch. Everything within reach, nice and tight. I’m not sure why it never caught on stateside but I hear it’s a popular contrivance in El Salvador.
In spite of my failure to make any meaningful contributions to advances in technology, I am proud of my role as an early adopter. It began in the 1970s when I noticed an ad for Sea Monkeys on the back cover of Boys Life magazine. The ad claimed these creatures were “so eager to please they can even be trained.” I sent in my $1.25 and the package arrived two weeks later. I was so excited to get started I failed to read the instructions, a character flaw that plagues me to this very day. Instead of prepping the water with a salty brine I dumped the entire packet into a cereal bowl. When nothing appeared for three days I gave up and fed the contents to the Oglesby’s dachshund, Puppet.
I went on a bit of a “technology” jag over the next few months. A magic set, a joy buzzer, fake vomit. I even ordered X-Ray Specs which guaranteed the ability to “see through clothing.” The rims were black, the lenses thin, concentric red circles with bold letters at the top which read: “X-RAY VISION.” Needless to say it was difficult to be discrete but somehow I was still able to follow the school secretary, Mrs. White, around -undetected-for about 15 minutes. Granted it was an alpha test but the early results were not promising.
Then came the mother of all technological wonders- the Magic 8 Ball. It arrived in a plain brown package. For about two weeks following its purchase, the Magic 8 Ball sat on my bedside table where it was summoned on a frequent basis. Every day after school I tore upstairs seeking some semblance of certainty in a pre-pubescent world. It usually went like this.
“Does Lee Stewart like me back?”
“What about Missy Lampkin?”
“Outlook not so good.”
This was getting serious.
I was running out of candidates.
“My sources say yes.”
Not my first choice but I wasn’t exactly a fourth grade lothario.
After about two weeks of vague, unsatisfactory clairvoyance the 8 Ball met an ignominious end when my neighbor, Rod Hedges, came over.
“What is that?” he asked.
“Magic 8 Ball. It will answer any question. Try it.”
He shook it vigorously and asked: “Is my brother a dick?”
“Without a doubt.”
A percipient start to be sure.
He shook it again: “Will I have to go to summer school?”
“Signs point to yes.”
Magic 8 Ball was two for two.
Then the killer. Rod asked whether his Dad was ever going to come back home.
He shook and shook with all his might until the white answer pyramid emerged from the inky water.
“Better not tell you now” came the non-committal reply.
Knowing the Hedges’ family situation as I did, one could hardly blame Magic 8 Ball for not wanting to get involved. Nonetheless, Rod would brook no more uncertainty.
“This is a piece of shit” he declared.
It was hard for me to disagree based on how things were going with Karen Munsell.
We took Magic 8 Ball to the back alley. Rod had one last question.
“Does my Dad still love me?”
I was too naive to look away. Finally came the answer.
We hit the Magic 8 Ball with rocks until it hemorrhaged purple.
That day, I learned a lesson about human nature that all the advances in technology will never teach or replace. In the end it’s about love in its ever mutating form.
So go find it.
And if you don’t like the answer you’re getting, ask a different question.