18 March 2013

24/7; gone fishing

My, how things have changed! The brave new world of 24/7 interconnectivity certainly is marvelous; each day brings new ways to learn more about everything, sometimes too many. I'm not going to give you the old line about "When I was a kid, we had to walk two miles to school, through the snow, uphill both ways!" And I'm not going to rail against progress. I am fascinated by new technology and new products, and I still enjoy learning about everything possible.

But I do wonder if we're giving up much of the adventure and fun of life in favor of trying to do as much as possible.
Having said that, I must add, nostalgia is selective memory at its worst; it ignores most of the facts. It's easy to say, "Things were so much better in the '50s, when I could buy [just about anything] for so much less!" But when you consider the average wage in 1955 - $4,500, or about two bucks an hour - that price might not look so good anymore.

Another problem with that line of thinking is that people in 1955 probably had wonderful memories (or illusions) about how good things were in 1950, and those people likely longed for life at the turn of the century, and so on. At some point, then, we're looking at life not only without smart phones and texting, but also without packaged food and good medical care. Not for me, thanks.

Still, some good things may have been lost along the way. In our quest for speed and efficiency, it seems we no longer have time for simply enjoying the journey. Consider sport fishing; much of the romance and art of fishing has been lost. Once a contest between man and fish, the results depended not only on the mood of the fish, which is true yet today, but on the knowledge and skills of the person doing the fishing. Though the fish always has been at a disadvantage, the contest was a bit more even in the past; it certainly required a lot more on the part of the angler.

A successful angler probably fished only a few lakes. Not only was travel much more difficult and expensive, but success required a knowledge of the lake, something that was acquired only after much time and experimentation. Knowing the fish and their habits were also important. When do they travel, where do they go, what do they like to eat at different times of year? This knowledge was best known by those who fished the lakes regularly. It also was passed on in conversation, with obvious limits, and by various publications. Even then, learning about a given lake took a fair amount of effort.

Today, in contrast, anyone who can afford a smart phone can access virtually all that is known about any fish in any lake at any time of year. Other technologies have seen similar progress. While the fisherman of long ago rowed a small boat from the dock, and later used a small outboard motor, the modern rig is a huge boat with padded, rotating seats, entertainment center, live wells with oxygenation, GPS, fish finder, and, in addition to a trolling motor, an engine suitable for a small barge.

We still share a romanticized image of the fishing experience, even though now it often is compressed into a series of frenzied activities. Load the boat, ignore the local lakes and drive a hundred miles, launch the boat, ask Siri where the best fishing spot is, fire up the 90 horse Merc and get there as fast as possible, use the fish finder, deploy the trolling motor or the anchor, and throw in a line. If nothing happens in first five minutes, repeat as needed. If catching a fish is the entire purpose of the trip, I suppose that works. I'm not an avid angler, but I have enjoyed many fishing trips. Some of the best were halcyon days when we threw in a line, relaxed back in the seats, let the sun soak in, listened to the loons and the water lapping onto the hull - and didn't get a strike.

A recent Rick Steves episode reminded me of our 2009 trip to Europe. I've seen some of the recent additions to information accessible by smart phone; it's now possible to stroll through many cities, staring at the phone (we need a new word for these things!), reading about the history of the city, the unusual piece of art in the next building, the world-class but inexpensive restaurant on the next block, the museum hidden from view to the right, when the next train departs and what the fare is, and more, all without talking to a single person.

As this progresses, will travel come to the same end as fishing trips? Except for the rich and famous, who have the time and money for ocean cruises, getting to any distant place requires a bit of high-speed travel, but once there, will we take the time to see the surroundings, or simply walk along, head down, and miss the adventure of discovery? If we're no longer required to ask the locals for directions, will we sacrifice the opportunity to meet new people and learn what they have to offer? Will we become fishers of factoids, with the goal of collecting as many as possible, or will we still take time to smell the roses?
"Everyone knows the difference between the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower, but what distinguishes your trip is the experience you have." Rick Steves

No comments:

Post a Comment