Thoughts on our lack of embracing new technology - with perhaps one exception to the rule
Gary King, Leader editor | Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013
It could be said that our ‘country chatter’ correspondents are this newspaper’s last real tie to the romance of small town journalism, if such a thing still exists.
Community correspondents have been with the Leader since the paper’s beginning in 1933 - offering the most grass-roots form of journalism, also known as the over-the-back-fence talk. Okay, perhaps gossip, if you prefer the layman’s term.
We’re amazed by their loyalty, considering the very meager compensation they receive, and the time they spend in gathering such news.
But some have been slow to embrace modern times. We have seen copy turned in to our office that looks like it was typed on a 50-year-old Royal, using stationery that looks like it could have been government-issued during the second world war.
“I don’t own a computer,” is a phrase we never expected to be hearing a good decade into the 21st Century.
But it’s not just a few of our employees. We’re amazed that some public officials and employees struggle with using computers and/or emails, as they cling to their ledgers, scribblings and pencil sharpeners.
And we search for examples of hope.
My father is one example. Before he died a few years ago at age 85, he spent a good decade of his life teaching his peers how to set up and use email. He would log on to YouTube and iTunes and download some of his favorite Big Band music. He could Google with the best of them and once downloaded a video showing the 1947 snowstorm that buried Milwaukee, leaving a 21-year-old taxi driver stranded in the middle of the street.
“I had to find my way back to the taxi station on foot,” he recalled.
He would have loved a GPS in that situation, although it was years away from being developed.
To be fair, he had a bit of an edge with technology, attending the Milwaukee School of Engineering as a young man and going on to repair televisions and radios for much of his life. He embraced new technology throughout his years and to the very end he was fascinated by how it could enhance his life and provide that simple element we all need to keep our hope alive: wonderment.
He never viewed new technology as something threatening his traditional ways of life - or as something that would own him. He still had fishing poles that were 40 years old. But, his favorite - a 1954 Whirlaway reel, made by the Great Lakes fishing company - looked like it could have belonged to George Jetson. It was made of a molded translucent, futuristic-looking piece of plastic that wouldn't look out of place at the Guggenheim.
As our newspaper struggles with balancing a printed paper with online news, Facebook, Twitter and mass emails, it’s understandable we want others to at least acknowledge our efforts - or struggle with us in our quest to use new technology to its potential.
Some local government agencies, including libraries and schools, have kept up with advances in technology nicely, serving a population that’s still split between taking advantage of that technology or simply ignoring it for old ways.
The issue of embracing new over old seems to be reflected in the local phone book, which arrived by traditional mail the other day, still thick enough to challenge a strong man with an itch to tear it in two.
Despite stories nationwide saying that one-third of U.S. households have chucked their landlines and now use mobile phones only, it’s obvious the local population isn’t a part of that big story. It appears more local residents than ever were still hanging on to their landlines.
Insanity, I thought, flipping through its pages. Why? Landlines represent infrastructure of a bygone era.
And then the news release arrived via our inbox.
Two Wisconsin legislators - State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma and Rep. Stephen Smith of Shell Lake were part of a group that is advocating to “assure all residents would always have someone to provide them with basic (landline) service, no matter where they live.”
In 2011, the state Legislature repealed a consumer protection by sun setting a “provider of last-resort provisions,” that would protect Wisconsin residents at risk of losing their landline phone service.
Without landlines, notes a press release from the senator and representative, consumers don’t have the option of DSL Internet, gone are faxes and heart monitors that connect over phone lines to hospitals. Small businesses can’t process credit cards or operate cash machines without buying entirely new payment systems.
So in a world where more people on earth have access to cell phones than working toilets, according to the United Nations, comes a proclamation in favor of landlines.
And it’s an argument that would make Alexander Bell proud and one that actually supports the embracing of old technology.
At least for now.