Keyless And Clueless

by , Dec 14, 2012, 7:00 AM
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The other day, my wife and I were talking about her trip with my daughter for a college visit.  As I am wont to do (because I am, yes, that guy) I asked what route she took to get there; was it this interstate vs. that interstate?  She stared back blankly, clearly unable to recall any of the major highways between here and there.

You don't have to be our ages to have a "senior moment." Who among us are not flummoxed when we fail to recall an actor in a movie we have seen 20 times, or the name of the guy that cousin Sarah married? But I suspect there is something more profound at work in this case of Failure to Recall: GPS. Since my wife is of the female persuasion, she dutifully enters her destination into the car's GPS system before setting out and avoids the male scenario of yelling at a frightened co-pilot “Why did you let me miss that goddamned exit!!" because said co-pilot couldn't shuffle the road atlas fast enough, or couldn't get a cell signal for Google Maps (welcome back, iPhoners).

While Failure to Recall: vGPS may not seem like the end of the world, it becomes alarming when you consider how technology has now erased all memory of other things like phone numbers and street addresses. There was a time you could spout off dozens of addresses down to the precisely correct  ZIP code, and knew nearly everybody's phone number by heart. But thanks to Failure to Recall: vEmail and Failure to Recall: vSmartphone, you can't even call your grey-haired old mum without accessing her contact information.

Although I am decidedly not a Facebooker, I am confident than many of you rely on its technology to remind you of a relative’s or VIP’s birthday (and some even let FB send the greeting, however impersonal it may seem to the birthday boy or girl). All of the romance and satisfaction of getting a handwritten letter -- or, worse but still acceptable, a snarky birthday card -- is fast disappearing in the technology age.

We all remember the cartoon of the guy staring at his computer screen and saying into the phone:"And how is your wife living at 245 Ocean Drive and her 2.5 children?" Not so far-fetched from where we are heading. While the ability to collect information about customers (both on and off line, thank you again WSJ) is unparalleled in history, what good is it when a customer you used to be on a first name basis with suddenly walks through the door -- and you haven't a clue what that first name is anymore?

I experienced a little of that at a car dealer recently where I was greeted with the usual utter indifference until someone realized I had bought two cars from them in the past. Suddenly everyone puckered up to kiss my ass. Since they had fair warning via some Internet-enabled back-and-forth before I showed up for a test drive, you would have thought SOMEBODY would have read my file before I hit the door. Apparently not.

Technology has enabled me to do so much more, but without having to learn so much more. For example, when my kids give me songs for my MP3 player at the gym and someone asks me who the artist is, I have no idea. Not even the name of the song, because the entire transaction was electronic and at no point required that I read anything about the music.

Want to have some fun to break the holiday monotony? Take your kid to the local library and tell him or her to find a book without asking for help. Save a trip, ask them to quickly find a foreign affairs story in the A section of the newspaper. When they are keyless, they are clueless.

It seems to me the more we rely on technology, the more our ability to remember fades away. With our kids growing up utterly dependent on technology for everything from homework to social interaction, there will come a day when you ask them if they remembered to buy a birthday card for Grandma -- and they won't know who she is until they access your online genealogy.

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