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in my day, we used our eyes to see stuff...
are we letting modern technology make us too soft?
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)
pop culture

I'd just like to start off this column with some extremely good news: medical science has recently taken an amazing leap forward. A few weeks ago, I was watching some nighttime "news magazine" show (could have been "48 Hours"; could have been "20/20"; could have been the voices in my head), and there was a story about how Israeli doctors are using natural healing cells to repair recent spinal injuries. They showed a woman who had been paralyzed from the waist down with a bruised spine and a crushed vertebra now being able to lift her legs and even stand up in a pool for a second or two on her own. Now to me, that's incredible. Doctors are learning how to heal the spinal cord. Something that was supposed to be impossible. I just needed to share that. Let's hear it for technology.

Yay, technology!

Which, in a brilliant non-directional segue by yours truly, is the topic for this month.

Ever get the feeling that modern-day science might be making us lazier? There are just so many things that computers and machines can do for us that we don't even think about doing for ourselves anymore. I've pretty much stopped looking up addresses in the phone book when I can have the internet do it for me. I know people who actually take a car service from the office to the gym. And of course we all know people who will watch something terrible on television just because they don't feel like exerting the energy necessary to look for the remote (actually, I just read in Newsweek that Casio has developed a wristwatch with a universal TV remote to solve that very problem - oy).

Digital technology is so useful in so many ways - from almost totally accurate thermometers to compact disks to increased auto safety features. And yet I use it so that in nine-minute increments I can avoid getting out of bed in the morning (not really sure why Sony decided on nine minutes for their snooze feature, but my last alarm clock did it in four-minute increments, so I'm not complaining). How sad is that?

It gets worse. My friends and I have, for example, recently discovered the pleasures of video golf. That's right. Not only don't we feel like expending the energy to play regular golf (which is basically just taking a long walk), we've actually found something you can do at a bar that takes even less effort than playing pool. I figure it's because we don't have to walk around the video game or exert ourselves bending over to aim the cue.

Think about it, though, because of technology, you can now shop at home, do banking at home, buy movie tickets at home, work at home, and even interact with large groups of people or watch large groups of people have sex, all from the comfort of your own La-Z-Boy recliner. Can you remember the last time you actually dealt out a hand of solitaire?

But it's true - for every example of the wonders of technology (my electronic piano has over 1,000 different instrument sounds), there's an example of how living in the digital age is making us soft (it's possible to write an entire piece of music without having to even pick up a single instrument, let alone learn how to play it).

It's no longer necessary to get your photos developed at a store; just buy a digital camera and print them out at home. Hell, you don't even have to go out to the movies anymore to get the full theater effect - just get online and order a big television, five speakers, some stereo equipment, a bag of microwave popcorn, two crying babies, and someone who will sit in front of you and move his head back and forth so that he's constantly blocking your view of the most interesting thing on the screen. No more dealing with having to stand in lines, walk down aisles, or anything else that might cause you to nearly almost break a sweat. Hallelujah.

Look, I know there's actually a fine line between convenience and laziness - there's no need to cook soup in a pot when you can just microwave it. And I know there are people out there who go to spinning class every day or ride a bicycle home from work or just actually do something constructive when they get home at night. But we do live in a society where you can pay $200 for a machine that lets you catch the 5 seconds of Friends you missed while you were channel surfing. Forget watching TV; it's now possible to read a book without all that nasty business of actually turning pages or putting it back on the shelf when you're done.

But, as usual, I have a solution, and, as usual, California has beat me to it: rolling blackouts. Think about how much less we would all rely on technology if we were never sure when the power was going to go out. We might start writing letters by hand for fear of losing an e-mail in the middle of typing; we might actually walk to work for fear of being stuck on a train or in a traffic jam because the signals are all out; we might actually play sports instead of Sega hockey for fear of suddenly having our 12-2 Hartford-Vancouver game cut short just seconds before the end of third period.

Well, we might.

Even given that my solution isn't totally feasible, I still think something should be done about our increasing reliance on technology to do the easy stuff for us. I understand that productivity gets increased immeasurably when using a computer for certain applications (CAD, for example; my father, an architect, hasn't hand-drawn building plans in years, and it now takes him half the time it used to). But when we've got people logging on to their computers to check the current temperature rather than just step outside and see for themselves, I think we, as a culture, have kind of a problem.

Now don't get me wrong; I don't want to go back to the days of having to find a pay phone when you needed to make a phone call from somewhere other than home. Or having to speak to an actual stockbroker when you wanted to invest in a doomed-to-fail toy company. Or having to actually sign a letter. Or having to make an appointment with a real doctor when you were afraid you had caught endometriosis or arthritis from someone in the supermarket. I totally enjoy living with all of the benefits of the computer age. But next time you get the urge to jump in a taxi to go six blocks or take the elevator up to your second-floor office, ask yourself one question: "Could this be why my butt is so big?"

Yes, people. Yes it could.


A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

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mike julianelle
7.9.01 @ 11:34a

I find it hard to believe anyone can score 12 goals with the hapless Whalers in video hockey.

adam kraemer
7.9.01 @ 11:36a

Actually, that was a very subtle reference to a line in Mallrats: "Breakfast, shmreakfast. Look at the score, for Christ's sake. It's only the second period and I'm up 12 to 2. Breakfasts come and go, Renee, but Hartford, "the Whale" - they only beat Vancouver once, maybe twice in a lifetime."

mike julianelle
7.9.01 @ 11:40a

Nice work. I am disappointed I missed the reference, but am okay with it since I haven't seen Mallrats in a few years. Maybe I should order it online...

adam kraemer
7.9.01 @ 11:45a

Sure. As long as you promise not to strain yourself while you're typing.

trevor kleiner
7.9.01 @ 11:55a

I tore myself away from online mini-golf for this? ;-) Just kidding. Actually, my biggest worry is online shopping for meat. Who the hell buys buys MEAT on-line? I'm not talking about online grocery delivery places, I'm talking about a place in Oregon that's trying to sell me in Boston a prime rib. I fear the future that allows me to order a chef salad for lunch from Hawaii.

adam kraemer
7.9.01 @ 12:04p

Joe - make a note of this: Intrepid Meatia. We could do a "Meat of the Week" type thing. "Coming up next Wednesday, you can all expect to receive your cappicola along with another witty column from Jeff Walker."

joe procopio
7.9.01 @ 12:17p

I'm asking for one thing. Phone, PDA, wireless web, and mp3 all in one machine. Is that so friggin' hard?

adam kraemer
7.9.01 @ 12:33p

Well, no, but it might have to be the size of a urinal. Actually, I predict within a year, you'll have it.

matt morin
7.9.01 @ 2:47p

When I was your age, we didn't have no mp3 players...we whistled our music until our lips got so chapped they bled and our tongues puffed up so we couldn't breathe...and we LIKED IT! And if you wanted a workout, there were no fancy Starimasters...we tied ourselves to the back of a truck and it pulled us til we fell down and dragged us til we were bloody pulp...and we LIKED IT!

lee anne ramsey
7.9.01 @ 4:56p

True Confessions: sometimes when I drive to the grocery store, I purposely park far away from the entrance so I can get the extra exercise of walking through the parking lot. How whacked is that? Instead of making things easier for ourselves, we're forced to make things harder just to prevent gaining 40 pounds.

adam kraemer
7.9.01 @ 4:58p

Fourty pounds? How far away do you park?

jael mchenry
7.9.01 @ 5:22p

Lee Anne, I think parking far away to gain exercise is a brilliant idea. Much better than people looking for a really close parking space at the gym to avoid exercise on their way to exercising.

Of course, this comes from a girl with an exercise room literally four steps from her apartment door. (It's across the hall.) But since I don't have a car I'm used to doing a lot of walking and I'm sure that getting a car would lead directly to gaining weight. Exercise is cumulative, like sunburn.

adam kraemer
7.9.01 @ 5:23p

Actually, Dennis Leary did a whole bit on the inanity of the need for the Stairmaster - a machine that replicates walking up a set of stairs - "Where are you going?" "I'm going up!"

jael mchenry
7.9.01 @ 5:27p

Oh, and about e-meat: there have been mail order places selling steaks for years and years, so I'm not surprised that they're represented on the web.

I just think it's funny that years and years ago we grasped the concept of electronically ordering groceries, it just took wiring the world to connect us to the supermarket across town.

joe procopio
7.9.01 @ 7:30p

I can smugly tell you that my friend Rachel and I long ago started a habit of parking in the two farthest spaces from the door of the Carolina Soccerplex.

Then I can not-so-smugly admit that we started this so that no one would catch us smoking after games.

adam kraemer
7.10.01 @ 10:28a

My theory is that smoking actually makes the lungs stronger by forcing them to work harder when you exercise.

lee anne ramsey
7.10.01 @ 4:04p

I've figured out the stairmaster thing: it's all about the illusion that you are working out. I can do 20 min on a stairmaster without breaking a sweat, but I ran up and down the Lyon Street Stairs (SF reference) for 20 minutes last wednesday and I was limping around like my grandmother for the next 3 days.

matt morin
7.10.01 @ 5:55p

Lee Anne, to break a sweat on the Stairmaster you have to be MOVING for 20 minutes.

jael mchenry
7.10.01 @ 6:10p

There's definitely a difference between the machine and the reality. On a treadmill, I can run for 15 minutes straight. On the road, I can make a good 4 or 5. No clue why, but it's true. (And on the machine I am definitely, definitely breaking a sweat.)

lee anne ramsey
7.10.01 @ 9:01p

Ooooooohhhhhhhhhh. Thanks for the tip, biker boy.

adam kraemer
7.11.01 @ 10:42a

How does one go about fixing a sweat after it's broken?

roger striffler
7.12.01 @ 5:34p

yeah, what's with those machines - I can do 20 minutes on the stairmaster at level 12, and granted it's a bit of a workout, but lately I've been climbing all six floors of steps in my building rather than use the 'vators, and I'm winded at the top...As a result, I've quit the stairmaster, which was obviously doing more for my ego than my cardiovascular system.

rick collins
7.12.01 @ 5:44p

>>actually, I just read in Newsweek that Casio has developed a wristwatch with a universal TV remote to solve that very problem<<
That must have been one OLD copy of Newsqueak. I bought a Casio "Wrist Remote" watch with my summer yard work money in 1983 and had a ball screwing with people's heads while they tried to figure out why their televisions kept changing channels in the middle of their favorite shows. Hehehehehehe.

The battery died about a year later and the "Wrist Remote" was tossed into "Ye Olde Junke Drawer" and forgotten.

I think I'll dig that sucker out and have some fun... (click - click)

adam kraemer
7.13.01 @ 10:23a

Actually, it was this week's Newsweek maybe Casio is trying to market them again. Keep in mind that remotes are a bit more...involved...than they were in 1983.

david l
7.16.01 @ 5:03p

Have you ever seen someone "Lose the Remote"? The "Remote Owner" will spend many minutes of their precious time frantically looking for the lost device..when the TV is only a few feet away. I wonder, what does the guy or gal do, the one who figured out how to graft a human ear to the back of a rat, when they lose the remote.

adam kraemer
7.17.01 @ 10:12a

Probably get the ear-rat to find it. I always wonder how much more productive I could have been with all the time I've taken in looking for one remote or another during the course of my life. Probably not very, because obviously I was watching TV at the time anyway.

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