Cascade Observations: A grudging Luddite keeps in touch

I’m living in a dichotomy. I have one foot firmly planted in the land of the Luddites, and the other just as anchored to the whirling world of technology. For example:

I just had to look up how to spell “dichotomy.” I used my hardcover American Heritage Dictionary, published in 1969. When I went to type the word into this document (being created on an Apple laptop computer) I noticed that my computer had already self-corrected my initial error, adding the all-important “h” to the word.

I own an iPhone, and have learned how to use some of its many features in the three years it has been in my possession. I can make a phone call, update my calendar, take a photograph, and access the Internet. I can and do use the texting feature, but when I compose a message, it’s a laborious process. I capitalize whenever required, use correct punctuation, and never abbreviate or use those cute little symbols that are supposed to stand in for emotions. I’m a klutzy texter. My fingertips are just too large to hit the “keys” correctly, so I am constantly fixing my typographic errors. It definitely takes me longer to send a text than to pick up my land-line telephone, circa 1990, and make a call.

I’m an “on the fence” Facebooker. I signed up for it, and receive notices constantly that someone wants to be my “friend” or share a posting. I read some of them, but rarely send a reply or make a public comment. I have nothing posted about my family or myself. My husband’s cousins, some years older than me, are manic Facebookers. They post on a daily basis, sending messages and photographs of everything from the bear scat that appeared in their Idaho backyard, to the October wedding of their youngest son. Just recently, they sent this post out about a visit in the Bay area with their grandson, who lives there:

As I was driving Roan to school today, about 40 min on a very busy freeway, I said, “I sure won’t miss driving in this traffic when I go back to Idaho!” And he responded, “I actually kind of miss the traffic when I’m in Idaho.” I said that that was because he didn’t have to drive in it! And he said, “No, it’s because it lets me spend more time with my family.”

That was a totally surprising perspective to me! But he’s right! We have some great conversations, laughs and reflections on our day in the car on those hectic drives, so now I will look at them differently. They allow me to spend some quality time with my Grandson!

At first, I thought this post was charming. How lovely that Cindy and her grandson got to spend “quality” time together. Then it hit me— they were in a car, with Cindy in the driver’s seat and Roan carefully tucked into the safety of the back seat, speeding down a congested California freeway. No touching, no looking at each other face-to-face, no contact. Her personal reflection was really a commentary on modern life. By necessity or choice, we are often physically disconnected from the people and experiences that matter most to us. And our obsession with technology can make us even more isolated at the same time it professes to bring us together.

I didn’t know any of my grandparents. My paternal grandparents died before I was born. My maternal grandfather died when I was a pre-schooler, and my maternal grandmother had serious dementia – she probably never knew who I was.

I’ve always been an avid reader. During my childhood I loved to place myself in the fictional stories where grandmas bake cookies with their grandkids, and grandpas take them fishing. This is the quality grandparent time I longed for, and to my great delight, this is what my daughter has experienced with her beloved grandma. They get together and bake Bohemian pastries, put together jigsaw puzzles, cook chicken and dumplings, and share books. Other than frequent telephone calls to check in with each other, they have a technology-free relationship.

A recent hike along the Klickitat Trail has me thinking a lot about where and how we are rooted to places and people. Walking along the river, we had the good fortune of being able to watch Native fishermen dip-netting for Coho salmon. Perched precariously on wooden platforms over the churning, thunderous waters of the Klickitat River, they were acting out a ritual that’s been part of their families’ lives, and livelihood, for hundreds of years. The tools they use are not much different from those that their ancestors used to scoop the sacred fish from the waters. On this day, multiple generations work together to bring in the harvest.

I moved to Oregon from Boston in 1979, stimulated by a desire to get to know my brother again. A close friend had recently died after a horrific car accident followed by a few tense days in the hospital. As her family and friends sat vigil outside her hospital room, I was keenly aware of how important it was to be close, both physically and emotionally, to family.

My brother initiated the family’s move from East to West in 1972. The rest of us followed, putting down roots in Oregon. My sister moved to Portland, and after retirement, my parents lived out their lives two hours from my new home. There were regular gatherings for holidays, football games, swimming parties and more.

Our daughter and her husband live a little over an hour away, and thus we get to visit regularly, up close and personal. When we can’t physically see each other, we do rely on our “smart” phones to share the news and photos of the day. When they were in Europe recently, e-mail was our lifeline. Without it, we wouldn’t have known that they were safe and happy on their adventure. If the future brings us grandchildren, I’m sure we will embrace the latest technology to keep in contact.

This summer, my brother and his wife became grandparents. They babysit each week for baby Audrey. In between babysitting sessions, they receive regular updates on the baby via e-mail and texts. Photographs are often attached to the communications. When not preoccupied with their grandparent duties, they often work on the house their elder son and his wife are building in the upper valley. Our extended family’s roots are reaching deep into Oregon’s soil. Technology is helping us keep those connections alive and rooted.

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