Do you remember, back in the day, when you needed a phone number? You would dial 0 for an operator (dial means to place your finger on a number with a corresponding hole and rotate the dial clockwise until you reach the metal stop). You would request a phone number from an operator, who would then provide you with the number you were looking for.
For a fee. In those days, traveling was so rare and exciting that friends and relatives would come to the airport for the big event to send off the travelers with good wishes, shaliach mitzvah money, snacks, and Mad Libs to keep the kids busy. If you were lucky enough to travel, you booked your trip through your local travel agent. I recall as a little girl when my parents surprised my brother and me one day with the news that our family had flight reservations to travel to Israel. We were beyond excited and couldn’t wait to tell our friends of our good fortune, but we weren’t allowed to tell anyone until we received confirmation of our flights in the mail, which could take 10 days or more. That is when I learned the meaning of the word “confirmation” and the meaning of the word “patience.” Every day we would come home from school, run into our house, and with much anticipation, we would ask if the confirmation had come yet. To me, it seemed like an eternity until we heard the answer we were waiting for: “Yes, the confirmation came! You can share the news with your friends!” Once we received our tickets, which came in triplicate, we had to be extremely careful not to lose them. They could not be easily replaced. As today many people book their own flights, hotels, and cars online, a travel agent is almost a thing of the past. Air travel is about as common as a walk to the supermarket. Tickets can take minutes to purchase. Confirmation is practically instantaneous. Tickets aren’t really even tickets; all you need to do at the airport is show your passport.
Car travel was also a different experience. We would choose a destination, and check the mailbox daily in anticipation of the arrival of our AAA Tour Books and TripTiks. We would call the office of tourism of our destinations and the clerk on the line would promise to send us free brochures filled with practical information needed to plan our trips. By the end of the summer, my I Love NY brochure would be practically in shreds from using it so much to plan my Sunday excursions with my friends. Even today, I can’t go rafting without thinking of those brochures. When we traveled as a family when our kids were young, half the fun for them was to follow the route on a map. But these days, tour books have been replaced with online resources, and Waze has taken away the need for maps. No need to request anything from anybody.
Things have definitely changed. A lot. While The Yellow Pages used to advertise, “Let your fingers do the walking. It’s a snap,” today, our fingers do the clicking. We don’t need The Yellow Pages any longer. Phone numbers can be found on the internet or with an app. No need to dial any numbers or speak to an operator. Once someone’s number is in our phone’s memory, all we have to do is press. And there is no longer a need for us to use our own memories. Our devices take care of that for us. I can still rattle off the phone numbers of all of my friends and relatives from when I was growing up, but don’t ask me any phone numbers from today!
Technology has streamlined many processes. The advantages and conveniences are obvious and indisputable. There’s no going back. But where are the people? The people?? Technology has replaced humans to a great degree. The negative impact on human socialization is significant. Man is a social being, yet human interaction which is critical, is disappearing. With so many service providers now replaced by software, one has to look far and wide to find a person to speak to. While it is simple to book a flight online, if things don’t go smoothly - as is often the case these days - resolving the issue can be an extremely frustrating experience. One can sit on hold for hours before being lucky enough to speak to a representative, despite their recording that tells us how much “they value our call and thank us for our patience.” Patience? What patience? Thank goodness they value my call. Otherwise, who knows how long I would have to be on hold?
People are also losing their social skills. Messaging has replaced conversation. While texting can bring distant people closer, it often pushes people who are close further away. Roommates in a dorm can lie in bed and text each other. When people text, they miss out on social cues and body language. In one of my WhatsApp groups from a previous job, an argument broke out on the chat. People were complaining about one another and sending rather insulting messages. Keren, the director, was away at the time, and someone suggested that they all wait until she returned to resolve the issue. They wrote to wait “ad sheKeren tachzor,” until Keren returns. But the spelling of the word “sheKeren” (shin, kuf, reish, nun sofit) is the same as the word “shakran,” which means “liar!” Someone felt they were being accused of being a liar. This did not go over well. This misunderstanding would never have happened had the workers actually spoken to one another.
The world is progressing at a very rapid pace. While we can certainly take advantage of the advances in technology, it pays to evaluate the costs and benefits of each development and use them in a balanced way. It’s also nice to reminisce about the good ole days. I can still feel my hands turning the pages of those long gone Triptiks.