Among many small family traditions during the holiday season, my wife and like to watch “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” at least once or twice between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year we also through “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” into the mix. These are two classic movies, with relatively clean humor, that really encapsulate the “whole” season – not just the fun parts, not just the happy parts, but also the excruciatingly “real” and frustrating parts.
This year though, something jumped off the screen and hit me in the face. Or, maybe I should say something that wasn't there did.
Both of these movies were made in the 1980s - 1987 for the Steve Martin/John Candy Thanksgiving classic and 1989 for the Chevy Chase Christmas installment of the Vacation series. Back in the late eighties, here are the things you didn't see in the movies – no cell phones, no smart phones, no pagers, and no laptops. There weren't any digital cameras taking photos of everything. People weren't constantly checking their email or Facebook. They weren't constantly posting on Twitter or Instagram.
Instead, if you were out and about and needed to communicate with someone – anyone - you made a phone call, and to accomplish even that simple task you needed to find a pay phone and have the change to drop in the coin slot. People showed up unannounced. People didn't know where everyone else in the family was at all times.
Somehow they survived.
Soon after these movies were made I went off to college in 1990. That's where I first saw someone with what could be called a modern hand held cell phone.
There was one guy, and from what I can remember only one guy, who had one of these things. He walked around the campus with that phone constantly glued to his ear. Who he could be talking to was anyone's guess, but he certainly thought being the only person with the latest technology was something of a status symbol.
The point being that just 25 years ago there was only one guy on that entire college campus with a cell phone and now if you go there they will be ubiquitous. However, instead of actually talking to other people, most of today's college students will be rapid fire texting or posting their latest activity to one of the many options on social media.
The irony is that as the ability to connect with other people has grown because everyone now has the technology, the actual connecting with other people has decreased because we don't even talk any more.
The idea of the rapid pace of change taking its toll on us was the focus of Reverend Jody Seymour’s sermon a few weeks ago at Davidson United Methodist Church. In his sermon, Reverend Seymour mentioned something called the Law of Accelerating Returns. When it comes to technological change this law states that change is exponential, not linear. Extrapolated over the course of an entire century, it means we will experience 20,000 years worth of change in the 100 years of this century.
When I think about that lone cell phone user just 25 years ago and compare it to the communications technology we have now, it's not hard to believe. It is also a little bit daunting to ponder the implications.
So with that in mind, this is my New Year’s Resolution.
I am going to pick one day a week where I don't use any technology that didn't exist in the movies “Plains, Trains, and Automobiles” or “Christmas Vacation”. The one exception can be work related email but that will be kept to a bare minimum after hours.
The goal is not a test of willpower to see if I can do it, but a conscious attempt to just slow down and ponder how fast life can be these days. It will be an attempt to ensure that ever increasing speed doesn't cause me to steamroll my way through life this coming year.
We’ll see how long it lasts!
This story first appeared in this week’s Herald Weekly at huntersvilleherald.com.