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James R. Stout

Information Overload

            Six years before I was born something new came to Houston, Texas. That something was a television station. There weren’t many stations operating in America at the time, but that would change swiftly over the next few years. By the time I can remember, let’s say about 1958 or 1959, television had come a long way. Many of the classic television series were either on the air or in the case of a few of them had already run their course and were beginning their stay in television history. I suppose the most famous of these was “I Love Lucy”. I don’t remember watching the show during it’s first run due to it ran from 1951-1957. I am sure that I did watch it that last year given my parents were huge fans of the show, but I just don’t recall it. However, I do very much recall the “Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour” which was a follow-up series by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez from “I Love Lucy”. I remember telling my mother that when I grew up, I was going to own a Ford Thunderbird like the one that Lucy and Desi had on that second show. I think it was probably a 1959 model. I never have gotten one of those.

            But let’s go back to 1949 again. My parents were married in July of 1948. Mom remembered them getting an automatic washing machine and being so excited that she would sit and watch it do its thing. Television came to Houston on January 1st of that year, but it wasn’t common yet for people to own a TV. They bought their first TV, an RCA 10” black and white, late in 1949. I remember them talking about the lack of shows to watch early on. It seems one of the highlights was “Houston Wrestling” on Saturday nights, but there were some national shows that included “The Lone Ranger”, “Kukla, Fran, and Ollie”, and “The Colgate Hour”. It was a young industry then and grew-up quick. A great deal of the programming was live which lead to some problems. There was one show that the sponsor was a beer company. During the live advertising breaks the spokesman drank real beer. By the end of the show he was feeling pretty good and it showed. In the Bible Belt that didn’t fly.

            The quality of the TV sets wasn’t much to write home about, but I liken it to the original “Pong” video game back in the mid-70’s. It was new and exciting at the time. By the time I came along Mom and Dad were on their second TV set. It was a Zenith 16” black and white. I remember that set quite well. He had it up until the fall of 1963. We didn’t get our first color set until 1968. Back in those early days of TV many of the shows were variety entertainment. Singers, dancers, comedy sketches, and in the case of “The Ed Sullivan Show” (Originally known as “Your Show of Shows”) you got just about anything from dancing bears to guys who figured amazing ways to spin plates on poles to Broadway casts performing a scene from then current Broadway musicals or plays.

            My Great-grandmother thought that TV was evil when it first came out. But she was already in her 70’s by then and I have a theory about how we view new things when we get old. Simply put, I think that most of us have a limited capacity for new gadgets and such. In the case of my great-grandmother who was born in 1878, she was in her mid-20’s before she saw one of them new fangled “automobiles”. She was in her 50’s by the time that little box they called a “radio” become common. In 1934 only 60% of American homes had a radio. Most of those radios were battery powered as well. Heck, radio was still king just 5 years before I was born. But Great grandma was eventually amazed to watch television when she did watch it. She never owned one though. She would watch the one my grandparents bought in the mid-50’s which was about the time she was turning 80.

            She was still alive when man went into space, broadcast TV was only in color, cars had air conditioning and would go the unheard-of speed of 55 mph. I don’t really think by that time she was paying much attention to those things though. It was just too much information. We joke about having “information overload”, but there’s something to that. By the time my great-grandmother was in her 80’s she had seen a huge amount of change in everyday life. She was born when people were still going west in wagon trains. Everybody still used outhouses. She saw the advent of automobiles, diesel trains, radio, all sorts of military hardware, television, airplanes to spaceships, etc. At 88 years old she had just seen enough and didn’t even try to understand anything new coming down the pike. Let me relate that to myself now.

            I grew-up with TV and radio and the space program. But our everyday life in 1960 didn’t include an air-conditioned house, computers, cell phones, robots doing the jobs that men used to do, and a whole host of things too many to list. I have seen these things come along. I have embraced most of them along the way. When I first started typing I used a non-electric typewriter. I still have it in a closet. When I first started recording music it was all analog on magnetic tape. I still have all those tapes and I even own a pretty nice tape recorder to play them on. But it sits in another closet and isn’t used. I started using digital recording back in the 1990’s. What it lacks in warmth compared to analog is more than made up for with the benefits of non-linear recording and software programs that offer you literally thousands of shortcuts and add-ons that save a huge amount of time when recording.

            I was probably one of the last people around to buy my own cell phone. I had a company cell phone as far back as 1996, but I didn’t buy my own until 2010! I see ads all the time for some of the new cell phones and what appears to be pretty amazing functions, but to tell you the truth, I just don’t care. I saw one of those ads this morning and two young people lay one phone on top of another and it does some kind of syncing up and can transfer data etc. Great, but I don’t need it and I won’t be buying it either. Yet, I’m sure my kids, now in their 30’s, will find it useful and cool and end-up with one of those phones if they don’t already have one. I know what streaming is, but I’ve never done it. For one thing, I live in the country and getting internet service is not easy to begin with. I can’t get the level of service that would allow for streaming. But the truth is, I don’t care. I have my 55” flat screen TV and compared to the TV’s that I have owned most of my life the new one is about as good as I care to ever have. I have a Blu-ray player and I do get basic cable (I refuse to pay for anything more – who needs it?) If there isn’t something worth watching on basic cable or a Blu-ray or DVD that I own, then I’ll do something else. I generally do anyway. Reading, writing, photography, recording, painting, and taking joy in the nature out here in the country is a better way to spend my time. At least, it is for me.

            The point is I’m already getting to the where many of the newest inventions that are coming out don’t interest me and I don’t care to spend my time and money learning how to use them. I bought my latest camera about 5 months ago. It’s a Sony mirrorless DSLR. It’s a zillion times better than my first digital camera that I got back in 2000. It’s all I need and trust me when I say I got several headaches learning my way around all the goofy menus. The deal is I am content with what I have in the way gadgetry. I know more than enough to get things done the way that I want them done with the computers, cameras, and cell phones that I have. I simply don’t need much else. But to a younger person, its all about what’s new, what’s exciting (to them), the future, etc. For me and people my age, we mostly are tired of learning how to use something new when we have something that we are comfortable with and it gets the job done. You know that Sony camera of mine? I know that it has Bluetooth capability and there is a way to send pictures right from the camera to someone’s cell phone or email etc. But guess what? I don’t care. If I want to send someone a picture, then I just download the SD card, perhaps crop and edit the photos and then email them. I already know how to do that, and it works just fine. Now, I’m not against learning something new if it makes sense. But so much of what is coming along doesn’t make much sense to me. By the time I get to be 80 (if I get that far), I probably won’t give a rip about the 809K TV, direct to brain download of music that I already own on vinyl, tape, and various digital devices, or a car that drives itself. Now, if they come up with a way to have groceries delivered to me out here in the country, then I might learn how to have that done. I hate grocery shopping!

            So maybe I’m like one of the 5 hard drives that I have for my desktop computer. I have a capacity for only so much information. I’ve not reached that capacity yet and likely never will, but what I fill that space with is more important to me than how I fill it. I would rather spend time playing with my granddaughters than learning how to use some new cell phone. Heck, the truth is I am also getting bored with all the gadgets. Why buy more? I received what on the surface appears to be a pretty cool device as a Christmas present. It hasn’t been out of the box yet though. Why? Well, it’s this thing that you put on the tuning heads of your guitar, pluck a string, and it tunes the guitar for you. When I was 16 such a device would have thrilled me to no end. But I can tune a guitar in just a few seconds. I have been doing it for 50 years. Do you know how long it would take for me to learn how to use that new guitar tuner? Well, I looked at the instructions and got a headache. It was a great idea for a gift for me, but about 40 years too late.

            Information overload is coming to us all. I believe that most of us will get to the point where we either don’t care about the newest gadgets or we simply don’t understand the need for them. I’ll leave you with a perfect example. TV remote. Arrgggg!

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