I am a self-proclaimed troglodyte, though I deny any resemblance to a grumpy old man. The latter deals with age; the former deals with technology and a lack of appreciation for it. I suspect I’ve been a troglodyte-in-development for the last 50 years or so. I noticed a tendency to shun change for change’s sake soon after I began to teach, and admittedly the reluctance became more pronounced after Judy passed. She was the techie in our marriage.
Perhaps I inherited reluctance to adapt to new inventions from my mother, although I mentally ridiculed her for that tendency. For example, when our family finally afforded a television set in the mid-1950s, it was a small screened console that sat in the corner of our living room. I suspect Dad would have rather added a new cow to the herd instead (he wasn’t a bad dad, but we sold milk, and a TV didn’t produce income). However, he enjoyed watching television at our neighbor Levi’s house, and he probably heard me and my younger sister Janet talk about shows our friends mentioned but that we’d never seen.
What we could watch never caused any problems. The antenna picked up only one station (Johnstown, PA, better known for a flood than for its television production capabilities). The only possible competition was in Altoona, but that town (where Judy had been born) was on the other side of Cresson Mountain and thus its offerings were blocked from us. Pittsburgh had three or four stations 50 miles from us, but again because of terrain they were only rumors. Truthfully life was simpler with no choices to make. The family never argued about which channel to watch, and the knob used to switch channels was never worn. The remote was never lost because one never existed.
The screen was small enough that we kids were tempted to sit close to the set to see better. I could only watch in the evenings after the milking was done. That further limited the shows I could see, but I actually preferred reading and listening to the radio in my room anyway. The radio and newspapers/magazines were more of my introduction to the outside world than television, and for that I’m grateful. However, I did have a spot on the floor in front of the television I preferred.
As I recall, both my grandma McCunn, who lived with us at the time, and my mom were afraid the set would emit rays from the picture tube that would either harm our eyes or our brains if we were too close while it was on. My authority figures, both of whom I respected though neither could explain what a cathode ray tube did (or even what it was), perhaps sowed suspicion of new stuff in my mind. I respected them because they were from whence I came, not because of what they did or didn’t know. To myself I thought they were old fogeys, but I would never had said that to them.
Later, after both my dad and grandmother had died and Judy and I had moved to Illinois, either my sister or brother bought mom a microwave, assuming it would help mom prepare meals. To my knowledge, the only use she had for the new-fangled device was to heat water for her coffee when she lived alone. She didn’t understand how it worked, so she didn’t trust it to rearrange the molecules in her food.
Personally, I don’t know how a microwave works either, but I do know why I use one. I just had a bacon sandwich for lunch, and the formula for preparing bacon after I place it on the required grooved plastic utensil needed for bacon grilling in the microwave is easy to remember: the number of strips of bacon + one minute = time needed for a crispy treat. Because of the microwave I live high on the hog, so to speak.
Sadly to my daughters and grandchildren, that’s one of the few concessions to modern ways that I make. Sure, I have a color television connected to fiber with a remote control with a wide range of channels. I also own a riding lawn mower and two vehicles (the truck is old enough to be a stick shift, and that befuddles the grandkids–I bought it in 2003 so I could teach them to drive a stick, but I’m 0-for-3 in that effort.) I remember a time when only sissies drove trucks with automatic transmissions; now everyone does. As I trace my evolution to full-blown troglodyte, I find it is not I but culture which has changed.
When I began my teaching career here in the fall of 1968, I was one of the few faculty members on the upper floor of the main building who could thread a film projector. Pete Sievers, who headed the Audio Visual Club, wasn’t threatened by me (rumor has it he had his classes preview every film that entered the school), but if he were busy in the basement, he knew I could help anyone with problems upstairs till he could free himself. Andy Urbancek covered the main floor. When Roger Reeves was transferred from the junior high to the main building, he was better than I at threading the film through the machine, so I gladly gave up my rescue duties. (I believe he could even splice the film if it broke; that always was above my pay grade.)
When the first Xerox machine arrived on campus, I could open the door to resolve a jam if the secretaries were too busy to do so. Some teachers were reluctant to do that; I remember the administration was concerned we (the teachers) wouldn’t use the machine enough to justify its presence. That fear changed quickly to “Can we afford all the paper these people are using?” The Xerox was far quicker and less messy than the blue ink mimeograph machine, so I adapted.
Now The Journal-News has a copier that can organize multiple pages into booklet form. I won’t touch the noisy monster; John and Mike keep an eye on it as it does job order printing in its loud, computer-ordered, complex way. I can’t imagine how much it cost, but I can imagine the damage I’d do if I had to work on it.
I choose not to have internet service at my house. I had it for a couple years (I was required to have e-mail receiving capabilities when I was an adjunct composition teacher at Lincoln Land, and I came to resent that–the LLCC English Department sent a constant chain of emails, most of which I judged to be rather frivolous.) I resigned from LLCC despite liking the students who showed up at the Litchfield Center and the staff who worked there, and not because I felt I couldn’t help students learn to write well enough to survive college expectations (my by-student evaluations were always flattering, and those are the only evaluations that count on any level), but because I saw a student composing his term paper on a split-screen computer–one side was on a source, the other the text he was writing. He wasn’t plagiarizing, but he had to fight the temptation. That was in 2015, and it was so far from the Reader’s Guide, card catalogues, and note-cards system that I’d used for research I decided it was time to stay home.
I realized that which the young man was doing wasn’t wrong, just different. An Old Fogey would have said the light emitted from Kindles and smart phones and screens of any sort damage ones eyes. That isn’t my fear, but it isn’t my way either.
I’ve never owned a cell phone, a smart TV, an Alexa device, or a GPS system. I hesitate to look for a new truck because even the radio and the rest of the dashboard would intimidate me.
Jenni came back from Montana to spend time with family after Thanksgiving and stayed at Dawn’s house. I went over for lunch one day. Kamryn was at school, but in the basement Jenni was online with her job in Texas; Steve was online with his job in Carlinville, and Dawn was online with her job to whichever site needed her accounting services at the time. I was grateful for CTI because their presence in Hillsboro made those three jobs possible at the same time, but I realized those weren’t the kind of jobs I would have ever liked. I don’t like to look at a screen while talking on a headset.
I keep recipes (which I seldom use) in a book, pictures of places I’d like to visit in a filing cabinet, phone numbers/addresses in a card file, and a watch that only tells time on my wrist. I drive my stick-shift truck assured I’ll not receive a ticket for driving while looking at a device rather than the road. If I were still coaching, I’d draw plays on the floor with chalk.
My current goal is to have my picture next to troglodyte when anyone looks the term up in a dictionary. (Does anyone but me even use a dictionary in 2021?)