I read a news article this morning about time travelers. Well, I read it on the internet, and it was while I was reading the news, so I’m going to call it a news article.
In truth, it was just a series photos—heavily overlaid with advertisements–showing old-timey, black and white photos from the twenties into the sixties portraying “people from the future” accidentally captured on film. How were they identified as futuristic? Well, some were men wearing casual, comfortable clothing in photos where everyone else was wearing a suit. But most of the pictures showed people holding what looked like cell phones.
For me, this photo series raised a few questions. If I traveled back in time with my cell phone, who would I talk to? Another time traveler? No, there wouldn’t be signal. Zero bars. Do we still call them bars? I don’t know. I don’t have a cell phone. When I mention cell phones on my blog, I’m stepping into the unknown. Right alongside nuclear physics… or lawn care.
I got rid of my last cell phone in 2006. This is when I switched to my current job, which doesn’t require out of the office communication. In 2006, few people had smart phones. We still had flip phones, and texting wasn’t yet wide spread. To text, you had to hit each number key the prescribed number of times to get the proper letter to show up. So as of 2006, I had never sent a text.
I’ve sent a text now. Probably six or seven of them. My kids have phones. So, on occasion, I’ll grab my wife’s phone and text my children. I also send emails to their phones. From my perspective I’m emailing (which makes me comfortable), even though my kids think we’re texting. It works out well for each of us.
The greatest benefit of not having a phone is you have to develop a high degree of self-reliance. When driving places, you need to know where you’re going before you get in the car. And if you break down on the way, you’re on your own.
In the photo essay on time travel, the pictures that really got me thinking were of people in casual clothes. If I traveled through time, I’d be busted immediately. My clothes scream “the future” (or at least “the beach”).
There was a time when I cared what I wore. Well, I still care what I wear, but now I care to wear shorts and a t-shirt. Back before 2006, before I got rid of my phone, I was usually found in khakis and an oxford shirt. Oftentimes a sports coat. Now, for me, dressed up is a cotton sweater with long pants (any long pants).
In 2006, I got a job working at the YWCA. This is essentially a large fitness center and a child care. The people walking in are uniformly wearing casual clothes or workout clothes. Every now and then someone will drop off their kid in what might be considered business attire. But because most of the work-places in town are casual, business attire is rarely more than jeans without holes.
It’s sort of pathetic that the only thing that differentiates us from the people who lived seventy years ago is cell phones. Last month, my family and I took a day trip to the Air and Space museum outside of Washington DC. Walking through the cavernous hanger-like building, I was struck by the level of innovation right after the turn of the century… last century, not this one.
In 1903 the Wright Brothers scored the first airplane flight ever. Eleven years later, bi-planes were duking it out in the European skies during World War One. By World War Two, planes were all but indistinguishable from propeller planes still in use today. To the folks living one hundred years ago, the people from their past lived without electricity, without plumbing, without transportation. When we think about the people from our past, we know they lived without phones.
Innovation is dead. The nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries saw a rapid improvement in all areas of our daily activities. Transportation, utilities, entertainment and medicine all experienced a total transformation. Meanwhile, the diseases we were trying to cure in 1980—Cancer, Aids, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s—are all still a work in process.
The common cold is still common, but at least we have Facebook and Instagram in our pocket, and a comfy shirt on our back.