Saturday, October 27, 2012

Help, my children are pushing me into technology

Two events happened this weekend that bothered me. I lost a blog I had written. It was ready to post when it disappeared from my faithful computer like the morning mist.  Computer expert Joanna worked hard to find it using all search engines she could think of.  No luck.  I had to say good-bye to masterpiece. 

Joanna was somewhat philosophical about it. Maybe I really shouldn’t have written it. It was about my strong reaction to an article about church men using their male energy in a day of wild behavior, demolishing and blowing up old cars “to the glory of God.”  “Aggression is the essence of manliness,” they were told.  Oh yeah? Not the way I see it in this day of war, violence, and domestic abuse.

The other event? 

My children pushed me, once again, into more new electronic technology:  Facebook and a KindleFire device. 

Such items begin as a gleam in the eye of one of the children, not in mine, but I have to suffer the labor pains to bring them to life and nurture them thereafter. 

In the early 1980s son James insisted: “Mom, you can’t let yourself get much older without learning to use a computer.”

“But my parents and their parents before them lived to a ripe old age without learning. Why do I have to?”  I had all the counter-arguments down pat.

“If you want a head start into old age, you’ve got to use a computer. Old age and computers are a compatible team.  Can’t you see yourself several decades down the road—you’re old, making doorstops out of catalogs—but with a computer you could have fun playing games – Mystery Writing, Adventures in Medications, Committee Strategy.

“I can see myself with a scrambled brain learning all these new commands.  Years ago my writing teacher talked only about curves, straight lines, and whether to write above or below the line. With a computer I’d have to learn about Word Wrap and Soft Hyphens and Booting the system. I’m too old.”  I was not quite sixty at the time. 

“Mom, I’ve heard about people of ninety-five sitting on front of a computer  mastering it in a few hours.  Nothing to it....”

“Then how come some of them are growing extra fingers in their desperation to find all the keys?”

“You’re exaggerating, Mom. You’ll be a wonderful example to your grandchildren.  They’ll admire you sitting at your personal computer, writing them letters, balancing your checkbook,  logging into daily financial reports from New York to find out how your investments are doing.” 

“But, James, I’m already drowning in information, and I haven’t got any investments.” 

“Well, think of other advantages.  You could track where you’re on a waiting list for admittance to an old folks’ home to see if you’re near the top.”

“I love you, son, but the thought of a computer in the house scares me witless. I could never deal with a computer talking back to me.  I’m sure I’d break down and cry.  I couldn’t sleep nights wondering if it was plotting against me for having told it to Change Logged Disk Drive when it wanted to Abandon File Without Saving.” 

 “Listen, you can take a computer to bed with you and it wouldn’t  hurt a bit.  They’re tame as a kitten, like a pet, in fact. Before long, you’ll find yourself saying a loving good-night to it every evening. It’ll become friend, adviser, source of information ---.”

“But I can’t afford one.”  

“Nonsense. If you haven’t got one before you hit sixty, Mom, I can see you becoming a bag lady on the streets of  Hillsboro.” 

Me, a bag lady?  Roaming the streets of that little community? 

No way. I bought. James  set me up with a big IBM computer and a tractor feed printer. I was in business. Now I wouldn’t give it, e-mail  and the Internet up for anything.

About the same time as this life-changing event I needed a new tape recorder. The store clerk advised electronics.  I refused.  I bought a reel-to-reel recorder, which I used only a few times. I was still thinking in the old mode.

Next I welcomed a microwave oven, mobile phone,  cell phone, CD player, HD TV. Now,  this weekend,  I was unceremoniously enrolled on FaceBook and given a lesson on using  a Kindle reader and playing Scrabble on-line.   Now it’s up to me. And I want to shrink into a corner and whisper, “Enough already.” 

Monday,  after nearly everyone left after a family gathering,  Joanna and I looked at some old photos of my parents.  A series of pictures shows the evolution of my immigrant Mother from a dark, floor-length, Old Country-style dress to a snazzy dressmaker suit she had made for herself in a lovely green wool about ten to fifteen years later. How had she managed the changes in clothing while learning a new language and culture with such grace? 

Can I make this deeper plunge  into modern electronics as gracefully? 

I think of the 1940s when I worked as a legal secretary and  Ihad  to type documents with up to fifteen copies at one time on a manual typewriter.  Every mistake had to be erased carefully on each copy.   The finished product was carefully meticulously checked with the original with another secretary reading it, including punctuation and paragraphing. A lot has changed since then.Who would want to go back to that?

Okay, so I lost a blog.  No big deal. Just a lot of words. Ideas are without number. 

Will I master all this new stuff?   Not today, maybe not even tomorrow,  but I can only try.  

Facebook, Kindle, Scrabble, here I come – slowly. If I drown, someone please help!.

Why I still read the Mennonite Brethren Herald

In  September 1962 my husband and I and our four children  crossed into the United States at Port Huron as immigrants. We waved our green cards and  medical clearances before the officials and headed to Kansas in our overloaded brown Chevrolet. 

But I continued to read the Mennonite Brethren Herald, the official organ of  the MB church for these fifty years.  Why, I ask myself.

My October issue arrived yesterday. I sat down in my easy chair and perused the contents eagerly.  I turn first to the obituaries, scanning names to see if I recognize anyone.  I stopped at Matilda (Tilly) Klassen. Familiar  face, unfamiliar name. And then, as I checked details, I realized her family  had been my family’s  friends when my parents first came to Canada in 1923: David and Maria Epp, or D.D.P. Epps, as my parents referred to them. He remember him as short and red-haired. 

At once I was back in their large two-story red brick farm house, sitting around their family table eating Zwieback and cheese, listening to adults converse.   After a few moments of reflection I could retrieve family members from my memory bank, the little white church we attended.  And much more.

Obituaries are times for celebrating the past. They are a way of honoring those who went before us. I think it is important not to let them just slip into oblivion. 

Next, I turn to Letters, hoping for something pointed and well stated. Usually there is. The Herald is able to maintain a readership willing to share its views, especially about theological issues. Some publications never achieve this.

I like  to know how others reacted to previous articles.  Granted some writers keep whipping dead horses, others keep trying to resuscitate them.  But that’s all right. Letters to editors in all publications are ways of finding consensus.  A denomination which doesn’t converse publicly is stagnant.  

Then I go on to editorials, usually well phrased  and incisive.  Editorials are best when they push an argument about a specific issue and don’t preach. When they preach, they aren’t an editorial any more.

Then on to the other pages.  I wish the book reviews were longer, but for that I read other periodicals.  Space is always at a premium in any publication, measured by the inch. 

I watch developing trends in this church of my developing years.  I sense a push/pull movement  with regard to the theological direction the church should take – Anabaptist or evangelical – or a little of both.

I chuckle over the way terminology has changed since my first foray into religious journalism a half century ago.    Nowadays no one ever “leads”  or is described as  “a leader.”  They, mostly men,  of course, just  “give leadership” or “provide leadership” to a congregation or agency, as if leadership was an object that can be weighed out in precise amounts and handed over to a waiting congregation. 

Buzz words like “partnering” crop up.   I still would like to see someone simply cooperate. I’m never quite sure what partnering means, or missional, or some of the other words much in use   today. And lots of acronyms are strange to me as an American reader. C2C keeps cropping up and I don’t know what it means.

As I check the ads, I ponder how church positions have changed.  In my youth,  it was important to consider everyone equal in the work of the church, but today announcements ask for applications not just for a pastor but for  a “lead”  or “senior” pastor.  Gone are the days when pastors were part of the  congregation, only  with a different assignment than the lay people.

These advertisements for pastors are carefully worded in generic language, a shocker considering not so many years everything was “he” and “his.”   No sense here that the congregations are looking only for a male applicant.

I know the climate has changed in Canadian MB churches a little, yet  I wonder what the selection committee would do if a woman applied, or heaven forbid, a gay or lesbian. Why don’t the advertisements state clearly, “Only men of a specific sexual orientation need apply”  if that’s the intent.  

And I wonder today as I did in 1953 when my husband was ordained to the ministry what is meant by “pastoral couple.”    What does the wife do? Does she become a little pastor?  Is a pastoral couple a package deal?

That brings me to another matter—a woman editor.  When I first started writing as a religious journalist in the 1960s, women in the MB church  weren’t welcome even as writers, let alone editors. When I was considering the editorship of Rejoice!, the interdenominational Mennonite devotional magazine, someone said, “I don’t think it will matter that you are a woman.” 

As I wrote in my essay on the history of writing in the MB church in  For Everything a Season: Mennonite Brethren in North America 1874-2002, “Women were outsiders in the Mennonite Brethren literary world for many decades, other than as devotional writers. Their subject matter was restricted to the world of home and children.... Their contribution came mostly in the form of inspirational and devotional writing or correspondence in Mennonite publications like the Zionsbote.  Never main articles. Never editorials.   Men didn’t expect to learn much from the writing of a woman.  So I applaud a woman editor who through words is preaching to hundreds instead of only a congregation. 

I read the Mennonite Brethren Herald because my roots were very deep in all the five prairie provinces for nearly four decades.  Those  roots continue to nurture me.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Electronic technology -- friend and foe

A friend mentioned that her children had bought her a computer in 1995 but she has yet to turn it on.  She won’t touch it.  Computers are not for her.

People talk about aliens, immigrants and natives when it comes to the modern technological world.  My friend is an alien— an unfriendly alien, at that. 

Aliens have no use for computers, cell phones, and all the other social media and gadgets available.  They wouldn’t have these in the house for love or money. Too scary. Too risky.  Too difficult to learn.

Immigrants are people who did not grow up with electronic technology.  Digital is a second language to them.  They print out emails and file them in a manila folder. They phone friends to tell them about an interesting website.  They use cell phones, digital cameras, Facebook, Twitter, pagers, and the countless  other gadgets hesitatingly. They are always an add-on, not integral to their thinking,  mentioned one speaker. 

Then there are the natives who were born with a cell phone clutched in their little  hands. They are as comfortable with texting and twittering as with their own skin. They can program anything.  Diagnose any computer problem.  

However.....  Some in this category, I have observed,  hardly know how to write using cursive or  add a long column of figures without a calculator or make change when someone gives them $11.62 and the bill is $6.62.  

I place myself  in the immigrant  category, elated when something works well, in the depths of despair when  some electronic equipment won’t work, like this morning.  My printer gave up the ghost. I think. There’s a light but no action.  And I had just put in a new cartridge. Now what do I do?
As an immigrant  I get edgy when my children push me towards  a head-first encounter with another piece of new technology. I want to shout, “Haven’t I learned enough?  Why this? I can’t take it into the grave with me!” 

When some computer failure  happens I think of my  parents who were immigrants to Canada in 1923 from the Ukraine in Europe.  They spoke English as a second language, sometimes haltingly,  never quite comfortable with it.  At times they longed for the Old Country, for its more comfortable way of living, for old friends and foods. They probably felt uneasy when they first used a telephone or a flush toilet. I recall my father mentioning seeing peanut butter on the table on the ship across the Atlantic.  He thought it was mustard and put it on his meat.  

I prefer books made of paper, bound, lined up in rows on shelves. They are my friends. I like my photographs in albums, classified by time or family, or not at all – not in an hand-held gadget.  

I like letters in files so that I can find them in a hurry. I like my financial records in binders,  at my finger tips.  I like my bank statements in print so I can use them easily for income tax purposes.  

But my son tells me I can do all of this more quickly, more easily on my computer.  I’m from Missouri.  Show me.  Little  by little, I yield.  I groan when I play Words with Friends and my opponent comes up with a word I never heard of.  I learn I can make up words, test them, and if the WF lexicon accepts them, the points are mine.  But what are these strange combinations of letters my opponents use? No word I ever saw before-- QAT,  YIN, DI, QI, CRED. 

If I texted, what would I say to someone 50 to 100  times a day?  Who would that someone be? 

And even Facebook, that entity worshiped by thousands, perhaps millions, only occasionally yields more than trivia. Although I enjoy the pictures.  Why would I want to live my life in the open?  How do these people manage to have so much time on their hands?  

I wouldn’t want to return to only snail mail – the waiting for the postman day after day, hoping for a letter.  

But I know I will never be a native in  the electronic world.  So back to my printer problem.   Help!