Behold, the future

By Kris Ferrazza | Jan 16, 2020

A few months back, my neighbor turned 100. I’ve known her since she was 79, and I marvel at all she has seen over the last century.

She regales us with tales of walking to school, milking cows and making sandwiches - hundreds at a time - for shipyard workers during wartime. Her mother was a midwife and she herself held many interesting jobs over her lifetime.

Her house was like entering a time warp. I couldn’t resist taking in the dated appliances, wallpaper and furnishings. I felt like I had walked onto a movie set.

She knows nothing of cell phones, the Internet, iPads or email. Her news comes from the television or the local newspaper, which she reads from front to back. She has no microwave, no ice maker and no dishwasher.

Her most modern convenience is a vintage, canister-style Electrolux vacuum cleaner which I expect will outlive us all. She uses it sparingly, more often choosing to clean the floors with a dust mop. We often saw it being vigorously shaken outside the front door.

Whenever we visit, I can’t help but tick through the list of changes I’ve witnessed in my own half century of life. The advent of digital cameras and the Internet. Flat screen televisions, smart phones and cars that park themselves. And that’s just recently.

I vividly remember the day my parents bought our first microwave oven. I was around 12 when my father put it on the countertop, plugged it in, and ordered us all to stand back.

“Stay over there,” he said, waving to the far corner of the kitchen. He clutched the owner’s manual in one hand and a hot dog in the other. Reading aloud, he dramatically pierced the hot dog then placed it on a plate in the center of the microwave.

“Okay,” he said, closing the glass door. “Here goes nothing.”

He pushed a few buttons on the front of the machine and my mother shielded all five of her children from what was sure to be an earth-shattering kaboom. We watched in stunned silence as the microwave lit up and the turntable rotated. The hot dog hissed and spun, then we heard a beeping sound.

Our hero reached inside and announced the happy news: “It worked! It’s hot, all right!” Dad proclaimed.

For his next trick, he attempted to heat a slice of pie with ice cream on top. The booklet had promised the pie would heat up, and the ice cream would not melt. You can imagine how that experiment ended. Oh well, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

After years of chatting up boys while tethered to a wall phone, I was thrilled to move to a cordless phone. It allowed me to take private calls anywhere I liked. That was life changing.

Another red-letter day occurred when I was a student at the University of Maine. The boss at my part-time office job sent me on an important mission.

“You are going to go to this office,” he said very seriously, handing me a slip of paper, “and retrieve what is called a facsimile.” He said the word slowly and dramatically, as if I didn’t speak English.

I nodded eagerly and fast-footed it across campus, repeating “Fac-sim-i-le...” all the way. Once I arrived at the office, a secretary pointed at the magical faxing device, which was humming with life. Thinking back to the microwave, I kept a safe distance and watched slack-jawed as a piece of paper peeled out of the strange-looking machine. My boss’s name was on it. It was nothing short of witchcraft.

In college, I studied broadcast journalism. Photography meant black and white film developed in a darkroom. Audio was reel-to-reel recording tape, which we edited using the cut-and-splice method. My DJ skills relied on an old sound board. Newspaper copy was printed out, cut with X-acto knives and pasted to boards before going to press.

By the time I had graduated, film was on its way out, and digital cameras, computers and digital sound had arrived. There was no going back.

While I am young enough to have experienced all of these modern innovations, I also am old enough to say I attended a one-room schoolhouse in kindergarten, rode sidesaddle for fun, and drove a one-horse open sleigh.

Strange days, indeed.

Looking back, I can recall my first e-mail, my first text, my first mobile phone call and my first time surfing the web.

Now I have an Apple Watch on my wrist that tells me the date, time and temperature, as well as my heart rate, how many steps I’ve taken, and whether I need to breathe.

A few months ago I attended a technology conference for work. There, I learned about new innovations that blew my mind. I felt like my nana, who loved to say, “What will they think of next?”

One of the cutting edge items I learned about was a notebook deemed to be “the last notebook you’ll ever buy.” As a person who loves stationery and journals in all forms, I had to know more.

Incredibly, this notebook can be erased with water and reused forever. It’s almost like a whiteboard, but in spiral notebook form. What’s more, each page has a QR code that allows the notes on the page to be scanned on a digital device and zipped instantly to various destinations.

So instead of forgetting my written shopping list on the kitchen table, I can text it to my iPhone in a flash. I can send love notes (and to-do lists) to my husband. My daughter can forward pencil sketches to her art teacher, and file math homework in her school Google docs.

And that’s not all. Are you ready for the craziest part? Are you sitting down? One of the notebooks, once it is full of notes, can be completely erased - permanently emptied of its contents - by putting it in … guess what? The microwave.

Yes, you heard it here first, folks. You literally cook the books. You put the notebook flat in the microwave, place a water-filled mug on top, and zap it.

My notebook is only half full, so I have not done it yet, but when I finally do, I assure you, I know how it will go. I will wave my family to a far corner of the kitchen, direct my daughter to stand behind her dad, and then wait for the earth-shattering kaboom.

And the beat goes on.

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