John Laird: Surviving in the impersonal world of tweets and texts




Lewis and Clark are properly credited for conducting one of the most consequential journeys in the history of exploration. They opened the American West to development by people of European ancestry. Miraculously, they managed to do this without tweeting OMG every five minutes along the way.

From May 1804 to September 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark ventured from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back, encountering two dozen tribes with just one minor skirmish. Somehow, they accomplished all of this without updating their Facebook profile to Timeline by the March 30 deadline.

Homeward bound on July 3, 1806, the expedition divided near today’s Missoula, Mont. and Lewis explored the Marias River to the northeast while Clark led a larger group along the Yellowstone River to the southeast. Their plan was to rendezvous at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers in today’s western North Dakota. Clark arrived there on Aug. 3. Lewis caught up with him nine days later, 40 miles downstream. Incredibly, they managed to reunite in the wilderness after five weeks’ separation without constantly texting RUOK? and CUL8R!

By now you have deduced that (1) I’m a Lewis and Clark enthusiast (2) I’m relatively open-minded about emerging technology and (3) I’m having the hardest time connecting these two interests.

This inner conflict is inherited from my father, who loved most of the old ways of doing things but also revered discovery and embraced high-tech wizardry until the day he died at 87. Dad first went online at age 84, grinning as if he were taking his first step on the moon. That’s how hip I aspire to be in my final years.

Pained by all of the pixels

But it’s not going to be easy.

For example, it worries me that instant gratification and constant communication rule the day. And if you’re like me, you sigh in resignation as you realize that we no longer savor the pleasure of giving and receiving directions. GPS took all of that away from us. You’ll never again enjoy the accomplishment of actually telling someone how to get to your home. And if you’re like me, you wonder if the decline of gas consumption in America is indirectly linked to the fact that, these days, no one drives around lost anymore. Our smartphones — which we never, ever, look at while we’re driving — provide all the directions we need. Pretty sad, isn’t it?

We see city councilors gazing hypnotically at their iPads during public meetings and wonder if they’re actually listening intently to citizens’ comments or maybe just playing Angry Birds.

We see laptops in the Legislature and speculate that, instead of multitasking, maybe they’re online, reading reviews of a lasagna recipe or trying to win a poker hand by drawing to an inside straight.

We see a fellow parishioner at church raise his hands and shout “Hallelujah!” and we don’t know if he found the Lord or the Seahawks scored a touchdown.

We see Spike Lee tweeting his apology to an elderly couple, and we just naturally question the depth of his remorse.

We see the same written word that was decorated by the likes of Mark Twain twisted by folks who are too rushed to type more than just a few initials in all-caps.

We sit with a giggling granddaughter and open her world to the wonder of literature, and beam with pride as she spells out words and builds sentences. And then in a few minutes, when her room is dark and she hides in her private world under the covers, we wonder if she’s bewitched by the glow of a smartphone and texting LYLAS to a playmate.

These are just our short-term concerns. The long-term worry is that we will be accused of fuddy-duddy paranoia and simply being too old or too lazy — or both — to keep up with everyone else.

Of course, these are just my opinions and, as usual, I could be wrong. If you think I’m wrong, let me know. My conscience will lead me to do the right thing.

I’ll tweet my contrition.