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Some folks call it progress; some ain’t so sure

Some folks call it progress; some ain’t so sure Some folks call it progress; some ain’t so sure

Between the years 4500 B.C. and oh, say, 1650 A.D., about the only things of any real value that mankind invented were the wheel, metal tools, and stone hats (no, they didn't catch on). Over the next few hundred years, progress ratcheted up a bit, with technological advances like the internal combustion engine, motor vehicles, the television, glass, and lamps that you can turn off and on just by clapping (talk about your giant leaps, am I right?). Then, in like the last decade, new discoveries have been coming so fast that one can barely keep up with them and we now have the iPhone 10, home DNA testing kits, 'smart' appliances, drones that deliver medicine, and wristwatches that can measure our heartbeats, our blood sugar levels, and I'm not sure about this last one, our weight rate of gain. Mine keeps giving me a 'Quit eatin' already, ya walrus' message. I assume that's what it means.

With the decade of the 2010s now ending, it's almost beyond comprehension to think of what has been accomplished in the last 10 years, and if the pace keeps up or even quickens as it has recently, what might be in store for us by 2030? I'm kinda' hoping for a television set that flushes so I can eliminate all those pesky trips to the bathroom during Packer games, but you know, you may want something more useful to humanity like a cure for birth defects or vehicles that run on clean hydrogen fuel. I mean, if you wanna be selfish, that's your choice.

Looking back to 2010, we yet didn't have cars with 'smart' windshield wipers that could sense when it was raining, nor auto braking systems that could detect a deer on the road in front of you and stop the vehicle even if you were looking in your glovebox for your old Beach Boys CD at the time. Yeah, I know that last upgrade has prevented a lot of crashes, but at the same time, I've gotten a lot less fresh venison. To every technological 'advance,' I say there can be drawbacks, too. I mean, LED lights are fantastic for reducing energy and saving the planet, but if you once had a cushy job in an incandescent light bulb filament factory, you're not all that thrilled with the progress, I'm guessing.

Probably the most stark example of technological advancement in the last 10 years has come in those ubiquitous devices we all carry around with us nowadays like they were a 4G appendage. Just think, in the last 30 years, we've gone from landline phone technology, to hand-helds the size of toasters with antennas as long as golf clubs, to flip- and slide-phones that we all thought came straight off the Star Trek set, to rudimentary smart phones that doubled as flashlights, to the thin, sleek palm computers we have today that cannot only take high-resolution photos but wreck a Congressman's career in less than 30 seconds when he posts a nudie to Instagram. I mean, think about just that. In 1990, a Congressman had to physically expose himself in a public restroom to get run out of office and then it took months for it to get reported and the police to investigate. Now he can wake up in the morning a respected lawmaker and prove to the world he's a pervert by breakfast. Ain't technology great?

Our vehicles are also prime examples of how much times have changed in so short a time. I think often about my dad, who was a master mechanic before his untimely passing 35 years ago. Many times when I was a kid I'd watch as he fixed a fussy carburetor to get an engine running smoothly again, now the only place you'll find a 4-barrel is in a Ford museum. I'm thinkin' Dad would be stunned if he could came back now and open up the hood of a new car, with everything controlled by computer chips and sensors that know to turn on a heated seat when your butt temperature drops below a prescribed level (I've got mine set at 70, I like cool cheeks).

I once felt bad that I didn't listen when Dad tried to teach me something about car maintenance; now it doesn't matter, 'cuz the average Joe can't fix anything anymore. There was a time when a man with skilled hands and a couple wrenches could change the spark plugs in a few hours, now you have to have a $25,000 computer diagnostic control panel just to tell you where the hood latch is located. These days, vehicles come with a Tire Pressure Monitoring (TPM) system that alerts you if the air pressure in any wheel falls below 30.2 pounds. My dad kicked 'em when he walked past. Seemed to work pretty well.

It's almost unimaginable to comprehend where things might go next. At the current pace of technological progress, is it too much to think we'll soon be driving those cars like George Jetson did in the cartoon, or perhaps be able to touch our skin with a smartphone sensor and have a physician in another country diagnose our diseases? Me? I'm hoping not. Just more personal somehow to drop my pants to show a Doc that rash that itches worse than the aftermath of a naked run through a nettle patch. It always makes me feel important somehow when a highly trained physician with 12 years of education and internships says, 'Yikes, haven't seen that before.'

As I already mentioned, technology isn't always necessarily fantastic, depending on which side of the socalled progress you sit. Here in the newspaper industry, for example, advances in desktop publishing have greatly enhanced the workplace, but have created some problems for us. When I started in this business in 1986, we put together the newspaper pages on large paper grid sheets, cut out the news columns and photographs by hand, stuck them to the pages (hopefully at least sorta' straight) with hot wax, and then threw the finished pages in a box and drove them to the press plant. Now, of course, everything is done on a computer with a screen larger than a suitcase, and the pages are zipped electronically in a few seconds to the press. The only thing resembling melted wax we have in the office anymore is the yogurt cup I forgot about in the back of the fridge like two years ago. I think it moved itself last week.

Anyway, as nice as it is to do this work in this modern day, it's also drastically changed the way people receive their news. Not many people read a paper copy of their favorite publications anymore, they all want their news online, and they want it now, or even sooner. Like those people who worked in the old light bulb factories, there aren't so many jobs for old newspaper people anymore, and that's a problem if you happen to be one.

Maybe it'll turn out OK, though, say if the next great invention is a device that can transfer my thoughts straight to the paper, so I wouldn't even need a keyboard anymore.

Oh? What's that? You'd rather see inventions that help sick children or decrease water pollution? Well, there you go, being selfish again.