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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

This blog comes courtesy of Not Sleeping, in cooperation with Staring At The Ceiling. For [reasons] my brain landed on a memory of hanging clothes outside on a summer day. This is not something I have done in almost certainly more than three decades but it is crystal clear in my head, especially so at 1AM when nothing much is happening on the ceiling so I need to make up pictures to put there.

It’s summer. It’s 1986. I’m wearing something resembling gym shorts, with white edging all around and a pleated elastic waistband. My hair is permed into a frizz of curls. I’m probably wearing a red and white striped t-shirt and looking rather American flag-ish.

And my mother has just said Can you hang the clothes, please?

So I trek myself downstairs and put the clothes into a laundry basket, haul them out the back door and into the yard and start hanging. Pants and shirts. Shorts and socks. Eight peoples’ worth of clothing on a line that is quadruple wide, like a pre-computer game of Tetris, trying to arrange them in a such a way that they all fit, socks in little spaces between, pants on the edges so they don’t pull on the line and hit the grass.

Then I wait. Maybe I play a little piano or drag the phone into the coat closet and call a friend. What did we do in the 80s without internet and Instagram, texts and instant gratification?

Sometime later I check on the clothes. There is no cell phone timer to remind me, no notification or banner alert. I just guess and go.

If it’s hot and sunny, they can be dry in an hour, so I start pulling them down, putting little plastic and wooden clothespins into the bag they came from. Checking each sock and each t-shirt for the appropriate level of dryness and debugging as necessary.


That one made me laugh, even at 1AM.

The pre-computer version of debugging: pulling little beetles and ladybugs off your underwear before putting it back in a drawer.

At which point this got me thinking. Then and now.

Then: hanging clothes.

Now: mostly forgetting to take them out of the washing machine in the first place and then when they do go into the dryer, they get all balled up in a wad so even after the dryer shuts off an hour later everything is still damp.

The inconvenience of convenience.

Which got me thinking about the phone. The phone cord was just long enough that you could pull it out of the kitchen and into the hallway where you could stretch it into the coat closet and shut the door enough to be in total, muffled darkness.

Then: talking.

Now: a hot dog emoji. Do people even call each other anymore, or is a phone just a delivery mechanism for solicitations and spam?

Remember when you had to answer a phone to know who it was, and mostly it was someone you actually wanted to talk to? And when it wasn’t you said something clever like ugh, those telemarketers! And it wasn’t someone trying to steal your credit card or get you to tell them your bank password.

Oh, and about that coat closet… remember when your conversations used to be private? And you didn’t want anyone spying on what you were saying, especially because it probably had something to do with that cute boy who was totally ignoring you?

Now every conversation is a showpiece. And everyone has to make sure you hear everything they say, whether you’re walking down a street or having pancakes in a restaurant. I know more about the girl who lives across the hall than I do about my own mother. I know what she eats, who she’s mad at, all about her stupid job and stupid Tammy in accounting. I wish she’d go stand in a closet, but then the guy who lives two buildings over would still be complaining about the deal that fell through and how his wife just doesn’t get it.

Remember when you knew how to get places? Like, drive your car to multiple locations, across multiple towns and states? And remember how many napkins you used when you didn’t? Entire cities were mapped out in ballpoint pen, down to the number of trees on a block.

Then: getting in a car and going someplace.

Now: I can’t even navigate from here to the grocery store without GPS.

And speaking of going places, remember how you used to say Let’s go out for dinner and then get in the car and go someplace for dinner?

Then: pick a restaurant. Eat there.

Now: Google everything within a 50 mile radius, look at their menus, read 60 Yelp reviews, wonder if there is parking or WiFi, scan the traffic reports to see if it’s worth it, look at the estimated wait time for a table and debate whether 35 minutes is too long. Order pizza.

The debilitating effect of things in life being easier.

I’m not saying technology is bad or that it doesn’t offer some major perks. I don’t have to take 24 pictures before I can go get a roll developed and hope that I didn’t stick my thumb in front of that one great shot of the trip I took.

I can use the internet for hours at a time without getting booted when someone picks up the phone. I can avoid solicitation phone calls 100% of the time and when I arrive home safely, I can call my mother to let her know instead of playing the “I’ll ring you twice to let you know I got home then you ring me once to let me know you heard it” game because every phone call was a buck and a half plus ten cents per minute.

So yeah, it has its perks. It’s also a major headache, hassle and inconvenience.

I don’t remember ever being outraged by the clothesline. But I’m frequently irritated by the dryer. Getting lost was annoying but not half as enraging as when I tell the GPS I want to go to Publix and it says Ok, calculating route to Ohio.

I think when you know something is a thing, you just do it. But when you expect something to be easy and it’s a thing, it’s a giant pain in the nether regions even though it only took you an extra four seconds.

I also think that relying on technology removes some of our own agency. We don’t have to know anyone’s phone number. The slab of metal in our pocket does that for us, and when it gets snarky and won’t boot up or loses its charge, we’re left, literally, powerless.

When it takes 19 taps to get Spotify to open and then it plays something I didn’t pick, I want to throw the entire phone/computer/speaker out a window. This is not a problem I had when I picked up a record and set the needle down where I wanted it. Sure, you missed the groove sometimes, but you got to do that all on your own, not stand there helplessly while some program attempted to do it for you.

I didn’t intend to complain, but it seems that I’m very good at it so I might as well play to my strengths. The good news is that the convenience of technology allows me to publish it for the whole world to see and saves me a lot of postage over writing everyone a letter to share my grievances.

Photo: the very convenient driver profile feature in our car. It remembers your seat position, your climate control preferences, your radio station and a hundred other settings. Until it inconveniently decides to lock you out of your profile, forcing you to manually set a hundred and three settings before you can drive.