Bwana’s trek

From Boomer to Bwana, meet your guide for learning about being a better human being in this world of technology.

I was hooked on technology at an early age. I was being sold a future that would be a paradise of promises. It was going to be an amazing future. There was hope for humans in their world of the future. But one day, I woke up.

I was hearing that one day all of humankind’s problems would be solved. As I was growing up, everywhere I turned I bumped into ideas about the future. Topics about the future were very prominent in books, magazines, television, movies, and many discussions. The world was just over a decade into the recovery from World War II and science and technology were booming. The invention of the computer had helped to end the war. The future was being painted daily with pretty promises. I began hoping.

Every few months television showed us another long fiery bullet climbing the sky to outer space. We were on our way to the moon. 

The President of the United States set the technological tone of the times:

“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.”

“There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?”

“We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon…We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

— President Kennedy. September 12, 1962

Futuristic was a huge buzz word I used almost daily. I can remember exclaiming to a friend as we noticed something new, “Wow that is so futuristic!” Experts were giving us eyes into the future—leading us to believe our wildest dreams were either coming true or going to come true one day in the near future. I dreamed right along with the promises. Could all the promises we have heard and hear today about our future with technology be some sort of evangelism? I bought in and ate it all up as fast as I could. It was awesome!  

Something happened to my deep love of technology and the promises for the future. I was writing about my experiences and observations of the ever expanding growth of technology in my life. Someone reading my blog pointed out that what had emerged was a personal ambivalence towards technology, a love/hate relationship if you like. These mixed feelings caused me to realize an urgent need for us to critically think through how we are to manage life in a technology consumed society where we may often be dehumanized. It is our responsibility to steward that which we as humans create.

If you ask enough questions, eventually you wake up. If you don’t ask enough questions, eventually you give up. I was the kid who asked a question, then to the answer, “Because…”, I replied, “Why?”, “Because…”, “Why?”, “Go away…”. I feel as if most of my life has been a major safari of questions. 

 I began to think about what it might be like to travel around in the solar system and even the universe. As other kids learned about dinosaurs, I lay in my bed at night with the lights on staring in wonderment at the 1956 Rand McNally map of the solar system on my wall. The planets intrigued me. I wondered what each one was like and how scientists discovered all the information presented on the map without actually going there. At an early age, I learned all the planet names.

The Russians were rapidly surging ahead of the Americans. Kennedy had challenged the Soviet Union, or USSR, to a space race and the race was in full gear with the Mercury and Gemini Programs. I could hardly wait for the for the next rocket and the future. 

I had to know what the future would be like and began a lifelong journey of absorbing promises of what was in store for me and all of us humans in what I now call the Technojungle. 

Then came a television program called Lost In Space in 1965. Based on the Swiss Family Robinson story, the Robinsons of Lost In Space leave Earth in 1997 in a flying saucer for the nearest star system Alpha Centauri. Due to a stowaway, they go off course. There was a boy my age and he was a genius always tinkering with technology and interacting with a robot. I identified with Will Robinson, although I’m not a genius. Like a spaceflight of adventure, I began my long dream.

1955 was the beginning of a quantum leap in the velocity of change in the Technojungle. Rock and Roll music was born around that time, perhaps that very year by Bill Haley and the Comets, Chuck Berry, Elvis, and others. This music represents a fundamental cultural change in the youth of society at that time and from then on. Technology played a huge role.

 

Modern innovations were taking society like a brewing storm. Following decades of the storms of wars and depression, I came along into this techno-world and seemed to enjoy, at least for a while, a time of relative peace and prosperity. But other storms would gather. 

Somehow, technology was going to change the world, make it a better place and allow us to do things never dreamed of before. Never before, except perhaps during a similar time in the post-war years of the 1920s, had technology been able to provide such a comfortable lifestyle. More than that, after the war, there was the new focus on the promises of technology—what we will be able to do in the future and how we will have a better life. Have you heard any promises from futurists and the media that technology will one day solve all the problems faced by humanity—even the problem of having to work so we can have a life of leisure?

What, no work! I am hearing the same kinds of promises today that I heard when I was young—even no work. Still I wait for that future life and world I was promised decades ago. For years I lived with such high expectations. Slowly those expectations faded. Then came the dawn of my realization that the future will never arrive as I expect, that is, if my expectations are built on unquestioned promises from futurists, marketers and other people. It is like buying an exciting new product only to find it doesn’t exactly work as promised and expected. So they come out with a “new and improved” version. How many times have you heard ads for a new and improved laundry detergent? I think all they do is change the packaging, or some other simple aspect, so they can raise the price.

Perhaps I have somewhat given up and this is one reason I am writing this book.

I saw the Space Needle and was fascinated by all the amazing inventions and promises of what the future would be like. This I remember from visiting the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. 

I was completely captivated by all the dreams delivered daily to me through our TVs. However, in retrospect, I may have always had a certain amount of reservation about all the future predictions and changes I observed as I safaried in my world. Notice, I said, “…my world.” We always see things from our own perspective. 

Weren’t we promised by futurists and the media that technology would one day solve all the problems faced by humanity—even the problem of having to work, thus we might have a life of leisure.

More technology can only make everything even better, right? In our home of the fifties and sixties, along with several TVs (I counted 5 at one point) we had a dishwasher, a garbage disposal in the sink and a freezer in the basement, where I was sent after dinner to fetch the ice cream. Life seemed simple and good, and technologies like the dishwasher, freezer and TV, were a big part of the reason. We could be better more comfortable humans. Missing, of course, was a computer, advanced networks like the Internet, and the deluge of devices that began infiltrating our lives in the 80s.

The man tore it off and gave me a very early computer printed poster of Snoopy from the Peanuts cartoons. This happened the day my dad took me to his office to show me the computer used to manage dairy delivery and billing. I think it was a UNIVAC (UNIVersal Automatic Computer). This was the first commercial computer produced in the United States. It was huge and took more than one room. A man placed big stack of cards with little slotted holes in a rack and pushed a button. The cards disappeared into the machine and came out to be stacked again. A large printer printed a big poster on a long continuous folding piece of paper using just characters of letters and numbers. 

My dad bought a bright red 1959 Plymouth station wagon automobile with fins that sort of made one think that it could fly. Flying cars was a techno-promise that gained momentum around that time and was reflected in the design of cars. Many people began to think that a flying car was just around the technological corner—just a few hurdles to invent our way over. This car also had a push button transmission, power windows and seats—power everything—technology is power.

As we sat in the back seat facing out the back window, I could push up on a small button on the chrome plate with a crosshatch pattern in front of me because it looked like it was a speaker or communications device and was perfect, in our imaginations, for communicating with centralcommand. Reporting to headquarters and receiving our orders, we would pretend we were in a Flying Fortress airplane (Boeing B-17 used during WW II) and start shooting at all the other cars with our imaginary ‘air’ machine guns. I’m sure other drivers were both amused and annoyed. Modern technology was sure fun. It probably never occurred to us that the little button we used for communications was actually a release for the handle to open the tailgate where we might well have fallen out of our Flying Fortress. Oh well, open bomb bay doors!

My dad thought it would be nice if my sister and I could look over the front seat and see out the front window, thus he built a wooden riser so we could stand up, hold on to the back of the front seat and be close to mom and dad. I’m pretty sure when my dad came up with the idea that my parents never considered how their ears might react whenever we got excited and yelled right behind their heads. We never thought much about safety in those days. Seat-belts, or lap-belts (no shoulder harness in those days), were an option and usually just got in the way, so they were tucked down the seat. 

 One year my dad drove to a convention in a rental car at another city. He was late getting back. My sister said “Maybe he was in an accident,” just as the phone rang. Sure enough, he had fallen asleep at the wheel and gone off the highway. The seat belts, he told us much later, “…were dirty and not in very good shape…,” so he didn’t use them. Someone told us that, had he been wearing a seat-belt, he would not be alive. Somehow, he had been thrown out of the car as it rolled and rolled. I saw a picture of the flattened car. His friend went back to the site of the crash and was able to recover my dad’s mechanical self-winding watch. Needless to say, it took the major advertising campaign “Buckle up for safety, buckle up!” to get society using the simple technology of seat belts. To drill the idea home there was a jingle song used in commercials.

Technologically advanced automobiles needed a technologically advanced highway system. So the United States, where we were living, built a huge Technojungle-like network of paths called the Interstate Highway system. Now people could easily drive anywhere fast. We drove every year to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to visit relatives and to eventually go to our cabin on Bowen Island.

The cabin on Bowen Island was a step backward in time and technology. Water, which we boiled to drink, came from a well up the hill, halfway to the gravel road where the car was parked. Electricity only came from the batteries in our flashlights and heat from the wood burning stove for which I learned to chop wood. The toilet was not much more than a stinking wooden box behind the boathouse just down the path from the main door of the cabin, that you had to step into for your business with nature. I remember being startled one early, bleary-eyed morning, by a seemingly monstrous deer on the path. Of course, there was no phone. How did we survive? It was great! I wouldn’t hesitate a moment to go back there. Somehow I felt more human, more at home, away from the urban jungle—the Technojungle.

Chopping wood takes good aim. You must aim for the bottom of the piece of wood you want to split. Large difficult ones with a knot require a wedge first. Then you hit the wedge with the hammer end of the axe head to drive it through the log.
This is a typical outhouse.

 Then there was that boathouse. It housed a vast array of gear for fishing and other rural waterfront activities. The boathouse was home for two clinker style lapstrake (a boat construction method where boards are overlapped forming ribs) hulled small boats. One was a rowboat with a small outboard engine and the other was a putter, or putt-putt boat, with a very loud inboard engine that was mounted in the middle of the boat. It was certainly worth avoiding, as its exhaust pipe got hot and the flywheel spun rapidly around in the open where it could easily gobble-up your clothing, or your arm or leg. The exhaust pipe went across and out the side of the hull. One day we had two oars resting on the protective covering of the exhaust and they almost got burned in half. 

A lapstrake build clinker style rowboat with mast for sailing. The one I used was old, but similar.
Here is another fine version of a clinker rowboat.

Rowing became my favourite pastime. Across the bay, I saw the ferry go back and forth into Snug Cove and then out in the inlet. I loved to watch tugboats pull log booms slowly along. My imagination led me into pretending to be piloting these two types of boats almost everyday. I would row in reverse backing up to our dock just like a ferry boat, pick up a passenger, and then pull quickly away creating some whitewater with my oars like the ferry. Other times, I would tie a rope around a log and pull it along as if I were a tugboat. If I got bored, I could go into the boathouse and find any number of interesting things with which to tinker. As you can see, in the midst of a world growing in modern technology, I was able to slip back decades or more to understand what the lives of a previous generation were like. 

If it was raining, my sister and I climbed up into the attic where there was an old wind up gramophone and 78 RPM records that we played as we listened to the rain tapping on the roof to accompany the music. I felt carried away to a more human era. The music suited our 1920–1930s cabin and less technological life. Of course we were surrounded by technology, only it was from by-gone eras. 

One day, we remembered the spin painting at the Pacific National Exhibition. We figured we could make paintings by placing a piece of paper on the turntable of the old gramophone and painting as the paper spun. I later became a collector of jazz and swing music from the 1920s to 1940s. Then I wished we had not been so rough on the antique. It would be great to still have it. I did get a gramophone which I still have, although I no longer have my collection. Many years later, I amused my kids by playing my gramophone for them when the electricity was out and we had to order pizza for dinner. A gramophone played hard, brittle, records, usually 10 inches in diameter, making the music without any electricity. We controlled the volume by opening or closing the doors on the front. My kids were amazed. 

A small Victrola gramophone with a 78 RPM record. I recognize it as a His Master’s Voice (HMV) plumb label created by the British company, The Gramophone Company Ltd.., affiliated with the American company, The Victor Talking Machine Company. The iconic image contains an even earlier Victrola with a Terrier dog named Nipper listening to the record. The original version of the machine in the image played cylinder records.
Above: The doors on the front of the Victrola were used as a volume control. This one looks like it also stores records. I still have a larger gramophone. Below: We played our children’s records on this system.

Now you know a bit more about my early years and experiences with technology. I will tell you more as we safari along. My study of jazz and swing popular music from the first half of the twentieth century has given me insights into a previous world of technology. It has formed my opinions of the current world and my predictions of the future world to come (not that I am going to predict anything). Thus, for some of these reasons, I may have a slightly different point of view on certain topics or situations from those of most people my age, or perhaps younger. This has forced me to think differently and causes me to write thoughts and ideas, such as “humans prefer analog,” that other people may not necessarily consider or understand at first. 

 Let’s put on our imaginary pith helmets. We can imagine our pith helmet shading protecting our mind from the bombardment of Technojungle persuasions and influences. You can consider it as your thinking cap. This may help you to think clearly about the topics discussed in this book, considering carefully your answers to the myriad of questions asked and all the discoveries we make along the Technojungle paths. 

Our safari will require you to think and reflect deeply. We can move on toward a better understanding of how our lives are influenced by the technological changes we face each day. This is going to be our ongoing journey. We must begin to grapple together with the issues we discover. We can learn to strengthen our humanness and humanity in an age of ever accelerating technological change by being human beings and living in a world of technology—the Technojungle.

Now you know about me, my journey, and a little more about the journey you are on and the one that we are going to take through this book. Now what about this book?


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