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We are aware of and participate in change all the time, but it is still the case that it takes a while for the reality or scope of change to sink in. One of my moments of awareness took place on an Amtrak Train going east. (What better way to force an altered pace than sit on a train? If you want frustration you drive. If in a hurry you fly with the other cattle. On a train you walk to a restaurant that might turn out, as my last one was, to be a Pullman from the forties.) Awake the following morning with Union Station far behind I noticed rank on rank of multi-level phone wires. Phone “poles” with cross Ts’ had once been a common sight along roads and streets, and at one time lone wires went miles and miles up the Arrowhead, Gunflint, and other area trails. All of that is gone. Unless you stumble across a remnant on a rail right-of-way or see it in an old photo you’d not know the extent overhead wiring once had on scenery.
When, exactly, did so many cars begin to not have keys? If you expect or require a car key does that put you in a fossil generation with all the hope of the Dodo bird? Maybe so, but I feel sorrow for any young person of today having to ask a parental person for the code. That’s so much more involved than “Dad can I have the keys?” In deference to tradition car makers give code devices the more-or-less shape of a key, though you’d best not turn one of those in the “lock” as you would a 60’s Chevy. I wonder how many of those “keys” suffer short lives from being turned in locks that are immovable. I’m sure it happens, aren’t you?
Now back to the percolator. Coffee (before we became obsessed with flavoring the bean to taste like a fruit) used to come in two primary grinds. These were regular and drip. Either kind could be boiled, though that was done my people seeking coffee as sludge rather than beverage. In the drip form you’d pour water over the grounds and let it “drip” through. This was not a speedy method. Then again, it wasn’t all that swift to load a percolator with regular grind and let it perk to completion. Unless you wanted a mess, stove top percolators had to be watched. The electric percolator was an improvement that shut off before damage was done. For many of us the sound of the percolator was almost as effective as a wake-up as the smell of fresh brewed coffee itself. A good many people can name the personality associated with Mr. Coffee, but who of us would have known with his appearance we were seeing the kiss of death for the percolator?
Change happens, and while we participate in it we aren’t always fully aware of the scope and consequence of technological change. Not many decades ago it would have seemed to anyone with a lick of sense that the name Kodak was photography. Not very long ago it made good sense even in a small town to be the savvy business person who’d install a same-day photo printer. This surely beat sending film away for processing. Photos without film followed by chemical processing had all the likelihood of producing milk without cows. But of course that is what happened so that in a relatively short time an industrial and cultural icon such as Kodak slid into near oblivion compared to its former reigning position.
Technological change triggers social shifts as well. Remember when a grocery checkout meant the cashier rang up items while you chatted? Now they scan while you deal with the little screen telling you to swipe and press OK until the end when the cashier passes you the printed total. There is little I’ve ever wanted to say to any machine, but if I want to eat I have to tell it this, that, and the other before I’m able to hurry away with meal in hand. It hardly seems something a human should do. Frankly, it’s a bit creepy to accept as normal having more interaction with a tiny screen than with the human cashier. Progress with a different name I suppose.
The social side of change shows when you return to something after an absence as I did some years past renewing my teaching credential file. I went through updating, adding, removing, and etc. until I was satisfied I had a concise summary. I submitted that to the Bureau holding my file. It came back to me needing changes. For one, I would not be allowed to include any of my University grade transcripts or accumulated course work. That seemed odd, so I asked why an academic record was not appropriate applying for an academic position. To my considerable surprise I was told use of grades was unfair to people who didn’t perform well academically. The logic of a playing field leveled to protect the dignity of a D- is frankly lost on me. Should an employer not have the benefit of knowing which applicant was studious and which was not? It was outside my hands to challenge this wise rule, but I’d bet the person who came up with that perspective uses a different standard entirely when selecting a surgeon. Performance does matter. Protecting the self-esteem of the lackadaisical or incompetent would seem to have rather little social value except to a lazy or incapable performer.
Change can be eye opening as it was when my sight popped wide when the same Bureau that said grades were inadmissible were adamant the same held true of a publishing record. If your field was communication you’d think a history of performance in that field would have some relevance. Wouldn’t you? Well, you and I would be wrong. You and I know a mindless standard has no value, but you and I are no longer in charge. We’ve gone the way of the percolator.