Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Not so gently into that good night

Barbara here. Like Rick, Aline’s post on the March of the Centenarians started me thinking. Aline pointed out that many of us will live to be 100, and that scientific and technological advances will ensure a reasonable quality of life during that time, promising years of happy reading ahead. But as the memory of and desire for romance grow dim, our interests may increasingly turn from romance novels to the delicious satisfaction of murder. Music to a crime writer’s ears.

It is also a fact, however, that the older we get, the more our senses fail us. Print gets tiny, sounds fade and grow garbled. The multiple plot twists, hidden clues and character names are harder to keep at our fingertips. We don’t whiz through books at breakneck speed, juggling two or three at a time. We read more slowly, in order to decipher the words, keep track of things and process the nuances of the story.

Luckily, it’s that same technology to the rescue. We old timers grumble about all that’s been lost in the technological revolution, such as face-to-face conversations, handwritten notes, free-form play, old-fashioned board games and many other types of direct, unstructured fun. The reality, however, is that technology is a godsend.

For centuries, books scarcely changed. They were stacks of paper on which squiggly symbols were printed, to convey and receive knowledge. When I first began working with struggling school children as a psychologist, flash cards, phonics drills, alphabet charts and dog-eared readers were the only tools to help a child learn. If they couldn’t learn to read and write, they were doomed.

Then gradually the assistive devices began to emerge. Calculators, little gadgets that provided the correct spelling, books on tape, simple computer games to teach phonics and sight words. Still later, software programs emerged that not only converted a spoken answer to text but also read the written page aloud. Word processing and story editing programs helped structure written work as well as correct the spelling and grammar. None of this is perfect; computers can’t tell bear from bare, and they have no imagination to figure out what you actually meant to say or do. But technology has provided a way around limitations and difficulties that would have been unimaginable even thirty years ago.

Nowadays, a world of information is at our fingertips, literally a mouse click away. We can store, compare, analyze and combine information in ways we could never have done before. I could go on, but you get the point. There’s plenty to complain about in our perpetually plugged in generation, but a little grudging respect is in order.

When our limbs fail us and we have trouble getting out of the house, it’s nice to know the internet and social media will be there to keep us connected to the world and with far away cousins and international news stories. If our eyes, ears and memories begin to fail, it’s nice to know there are audio books, e-readers with adjustable font, electronic bookmarks, search functions and even easy-read short novels to satisfy our craving for books right up until the pine box arrives.


academia-research said...
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Charlotte Hinger said...

Barbara--I agree. And the number of seniors adopting ebooks is amazing. Because they can see! When rounding up books for the library book sale, I'm floored at the number of paperbacks with impossible type. What were they thinking?