This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life

March 10, 2009

‘Til It’s Gone

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — pprscribe @ 10:48 am

"telephone dial." Leo Reynolds,

So I spent Sunday morning walking around the house, re-setting all the clocks. The microwave oven, the regular oven, three alarm clocks, two automobiles…

At about the third change I had a random thought:

Hmmm. None of these clocks has a dial.

A dial. A circular disc or knob with markings of some sort that you can manually rotate.

Most people would probably acknowledge such a thought, then let it go to move on with their day. In my case, the thought nagged off and on at the edges of my consciousness for the next couple of days.

With some discomfort I came to the conclusion that there is not a single dial in my house. Not on my telephones, or clocks, or stovetop, or computer, or television. Not even on any children’s toys. No dials. Anywhere.

When did this happen? When did my home make the technological leap from manual knobs to fully digital, LED-lit controls? I suspect it was not so much a leap as kind of technological creep. One year the computer with the dial to control volume is replaced with one with more memory and better features that–quite unnoticed–has two buttons marked with little speaker type graphics to make sound softer or louder. Another year the old, huge microwave with the knob you turn to 2:00 to make a bag of Orville Redenbacher was replaced with the sleeker model that uses a touch screen. And although I still speak of having a contact on “speed dial” it has been many phones ago since I actually put my index finger through a hole on a disc and moved it round to dial someone’s number.

No more dials here.

I never voted on this move. There was never any big national initiative, perhaps like the move from analog TV, to phase out dials.

Honestly, I never really missed dials–hadn’t realized that I had none, even–until the other day. I cannot say that I have been particularly dissatisfied by the tools that have replaced dials. A more environmentally-attuned person might comment on the human-environment disconnect that comes from less interaction with the machines that we create…a lessened ability for everyday people to actually fix machines themselves using tools from their own homes…an increased bias towards disposability rather than maintenance.

My feelings of loss about dials is not this noble, however. My feeling has more to do with the fact that I was not even aware that these implements were now absent from my space. I feel at times as if the entire universe is at my fingertips. Everything is only a click away. Everyone has a cell phone camera and the ability to uplink to YouTube. Nothing can happen without someone noticing.

But of course this is not true. Technology disappears all the time with barely a notice. Languages. People. Cultural artifacts. Stories.

Gone things can be got back–if someone notices that they’ve gone in the first place. But never in the same way. Only under the guise of “retro” or “nostalgia.”

Today I did find a dial in my house. To my knowledge it is the only one. It is an old bathroom scale hidden far in the back of a closet that no one had used in years. In fact, I did not even know that we still had it. I spent almost five minutes trying to calibrate the dial so that the scale reads “0” when no one is standing on it. I have to have my glasses on in order to read the tiny numbers and tick marks at my toes. It is not incredibly sleek and does not match my decor. But I plan to clean it up and put it in my bathroom and use it.


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