Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
You might not believe this, but as I was cleaning out our basement in Kansas there were a lot of things that my mom and dad just never threw out. A lot of things from our youth were still there as reminders of a long-distant past. Sometimes you realize how different things are today revealed in the simplest things.
I found my old electric typewriter that my parents gave me when I went away to college. It had its own plastic case that looked like a lumpy briefcase. My older brother John, who was ne year earlier in technology, had a manual return (this means you had to raise your hand and hit the return arm on the carriage to return the position of the drum to the left margin and advance one line lower on the typing paper in order to start typing another line on the page). My electric typewriter, one year more advanced, had a modern and sleek electric return button.
It still turned on, I thought I would give it a try. I made a lot of mistakes. My typing fingers have grown weaker. Confronted with my mistakes, I used a correction cartridge that was still inside the case, but it was dry with age. I remembered how difficult it was to type before these cartridges were invented and you had to line up the striker with the typed letter on the page. It got a whole lot more complicated if you were typing carbon copies (you see, we didn’t have copiers or liquid white-out yet in those days).
I realized how much harder we used to try not to make mistakes, because they weren’t easy to fix. I studied typing in high school, and was pretty proud of my 110 words per minute with a minimum of typos. I loved those IBM Selectrics.
Typing on a computer today you can be a whole lot more careless, fixes are just a delete or backspace button away. I have allowed my skills to get sloppy. We get to make a lot of mistakes today and it is so easy to hide all of them, still giving a good impression with our work.
Our lives have gone this way, too. Most people today don’t even know how much discipline might be required to achieve excellence, we settle for “good enough” all too often. We don’t even have to learn how to spell anymore, or write by hand, the machine even takes care of matching subjects and verbs for us. There is a great deal of typing being done today, people writing about how machines are replacing our skills, our excellence, our relationships. Isn’t a conference call as good as a meeting, anyway? I knew a young man who attended ecumenical meetings who told me one time that his best friends were actually Facebook friends. I asked him if he ever met them face-to-face, in person. “No,” he said, “don’t need to.”
And yet I’m pretty sure they said the same thing about the printing presses and calculators, we need them all. All good gifts come from God, but always require that we still engage our brains when incorporating such tools in our lives. Gifts are intended to enhance, strengthen, expand our human abilities, not replace them.
The keynote speaker at my college graduation commencement was a university president from California, I believe. He commented about the advances and new trends of thought that were transforming our society—this was 30 years ago before the personal computer was even invented. Some were good, some were bad, he said. It is important to keep an open mind…as long as you don’t open it so far that your brains fall out.
God bless you.