The Old Man and the CPU
By Ron Marr
You must understand; I’ve spent many years in a state of considerable isolation. From 2007 until 2011, by choice, I rarely strayed beyond the confines of my remote property in the Ozarks. My tiny, wood-heated cabin—primitive and ramshackle—was a dream made real.
Surrounded by the Mark Twain forest and fronted by the Gasconade River, I awoke daily to the machine-gun staccato of woodpeckers on dead oak. I drifted to sleep encased in the howls of coyotes, the chiming of tree frogs, and the horse-whinny sonata of screech owls.
Since 2011, by choice, I’ve lived in the rural flatlands of west-central Missouri. It’s the place where I grew up, and the place I left at age seventeen. I returned here not out of an abiding love for the topography or a latent sense of nostalgia, but because of familial duty.
My father, at ninety-four, is afflicted with severe Alzheimer’s. My mother, at ninety-one, possesses the typical ailments accompanying advanced age. Thus, for the past five years I’ve rarely wandered from the gravel road leading from my home to theirs. I venture out primarily to buy their groceries or take them to medical appointments.
You must understand: I’ve spent the past decade in a state of considerable isolation. That is, until a couple months ago when I made a whirlwind trip to New Jersey for my best friend’s surprise, sixtieth birthday party. We had a wonderful reunion, and I cherished the too-brief moments with those to whom I’m closest. It was beyond great, but that’s not the story.
Imagine how Rip Van Winkle saw the world after his slumber. Imagine a con leaving prison after a ten-year sentence. I know of the cultural changes, scientific leaps, and silicon-chipped gadgetry that have altered the manner in which people think, behave, and communicate, but I’ve not truly experienced them for myself. I’ve not witnessed the collective population constantly gazing down at phones and tablets, fingers flying, attention spastically flitting from news briefs to texts to games to social media. I’ve not personally observed the masses simultaneously tapping screens, frantically sending tidbits of messages with their thumbs, drunk on incessant connection.
At first glace it was disturbing, reminiscent of a 1980s dystopian movie in which humanity merges with machine and adopts a hive mentality. I pondered that perhaps the minds of men are now geared toward interacting with the sterile shadows of virtual reality rather than with sentient creatures born of flesh and blood.
I’d bet most people don’t notice these things, and really, there’s no reason they should. It’s a forest and trees scenario, and the co-mingling of man and gadget is so prevalent that it’s the new normal. In such cases, all one can do is accept the inevitable and tolerate the changes. To do otherwise is to risk becoming like the people my younger self viewed as embarrassingly annoying curmudgeons, the ones who pined for rotary-dial phones, cursed answering machines, and uttered a never-ending mantra of “why can’t things stay like they were?”
It eventually struck me that the people hunched over their gadgets, eyes glazed in hypnotic focus, were not the strange ones. For good or ill, I was the odd man out, the anachronism sitting in the airport reading a book with (gasp) paper pages.
Since I refuse to be the bitter codger who believes joy lives only in the past, I’ll likely embark on a search for balance. There must be a happy medium between isolation and connectivity, between too much technology and a quasi-Luddite mentality. New is not always bad. Old is not always good.
I won’t find my answers on Google. Rather, I suspect they lie deep within myself.