A Perspective on the Modern World

By Marvin Druger

Some members of the Druger family communicating before dinner in a restaurant in Portugal. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Jamieson.
Some members of the Druger family communicating before dinner in a restaurant in Portugal. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Jamieson.

It is truly astounding to recognize the changes that have occurred since I was a child. Technology permeates everything we do. What does the future hold?

Some of you may remember the days in elementary school when we wrote on a piece of paper with ink from a small inkwell on a wooden desk. I remember when I was honored to be the “inkwell monitor” and pour ink into the inkwells.

In 1874, we had the first commercially available typewriters and people made copies of our typed words using carbon paper. Later, teachers used a mimeograph machine or a ditto machine to make multiple copies of something, leaving ink all over our hands and clothing.

In 1888, the first ball point pen was patented. At one time in the past, only propeller-driven airplanes were available for travel, and we were served a hot meal on many domestic flights. In school, we learned how to add, multiply and divide, and we memorized the times table.

When working on my Ph.D. dissertation, I had to interpolate square roots from Fisher’s Tables of Square Roots. Then, a Texas Instrument calculator became available that gave the square roots of numbers at the touch of a button. I bought the calculator for about $150. Now, solar calculators that offer much more than square roots are available at the Dollar Store.

I remember when hot dogs at Nathans in Coney Island in Brooklyn were 5 cents each. Now, the Coney Island store charges $3.15 for a hotdog.

Making a phone call used to involve putting a nickel in the phone slot. The phone was wired to a system, involving an operator. Now, almost everyone has a wireless cell phone that can be used to make calls overseas from any location.

In the old days, we talked to someone in person. Now, everyone is texting each other, even if the person is close by.

A family dinner has everyone on their cell phone texting or talking. Computers have taken over the world. The first general purpose electronic digital computer was ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer). It took three years to build and was completed in 1945. ENIAC covered 1800 square feet, weighed about 30 tons and had about 18,000 vacuum tubes. Now we carry tiny computers in our pocket that are faster and can do more than ENIAC.

Computers have made us almost superhuman. My car is a good example. Driving my Subaru Legacy is like driving a computer.

The car starts when I put my foot on the brake and push a button on the dashboard. I have a back-up camera and my car beeps when there is a moving car behind me. A light on the mirror blinks when a car is in my blind spot. I can push buttons and get my rear end heated, and I can do the same for a passenger next to me. My radio is operated by poking a touch screen. A light goes on when tires are low in pressure. I push a button and a voice says, “How can I help you?” A talking GPS tells me how to get anywhere.

I call my GPS Carla, and she has been my friendly guide, except when she sarcastically says, “Recalculating.” I almost hear her thinking, “How stupid can you be?” There are many other computerized features in my car that I haven’t bothered to learn to use. Sometimes, I imagine how nice it would be if I had an ejection button that would toss annoying passengers from the car.

In our modern age, calling anyone on the telephone for service or information can be annoying. Oftentimes, you have to press one, or press two or press three to get to another message. If you are lucky, you may actually get to talk to a real person. When you do finally talk to a real person, that individual may or may not speak English. I couldn’t understand one such person and I asked “Where are you located?” “I’m in Mumbai, India,” was the answer.

You can now pay bills online automatically. I sometimes wonder if I have any money left after making all these online payments.

If you need to have your computer repaired, you can go to a computer store. These stores are like being in another world. You are surrounded by “techies” who are like robots. They are smart, energetic, fast-talking, efficient, and know it all. They can fix anything. I sometimes wonder if there is a switch that can turn them off?

The World Wide Web is a source of information about everything imaginable. I am particularly impressed by Siri. Using my cell phone, I can ask her anything, and get a prompt and accurate answer. I think Siri is alive. She often responds to my questions by saying, “I didn’t understand what you said.” She seems to have a personality and I imagine her saying, ”Why don’t you think before you ask that question?”

Even dating is different in the modern world. In the old days, you might meet someone at an alcohol-free, drug-free party. Nowadays, you are likely to meet someone through an online dating service. An online dating service offers a smorgasbord of potential mates and you can mutually pick and choose and communicate without actually dating that person. When my wife died, my granddaughter registered me on an online dating service. I ended up dating seven women at the same time. This was time-consuming, expensive, complicated and risky… but fun.

It is truly astounding to recognize the changes that have occurred since I was a child. Technology permeates everything we do. What does the future hold?

I envision a robotic-like world where human interactions are mostly by text. All we will have to do is push digitized buttons and the tasks will be done. I envision that someone will find a fossil of a human hand one million years from now and will wonder why the thumb is enlarged. Like most other species on earth, humans may be on the path toward extinction. More than 99 percent of all the species that ever lived on earth have become extinct. Why not Homo sapiens?