I Miss The Dinner Bell

It’s hard to explain to anyone under the age of 30 what it is was like to grow up in an uncomplicated world – devoid of beeps and buzzers and digital time and hold buttons and power cords.

It was once a place where we were familiar with stars – not yet muted by the bright lights of big chain stores, and we knew the feel of grass beneath our feet or what it felt like to sit under a tree. We met our friends in the fields and played capture the flag until the street lights came on, and I remember my neighbor’s mother rang a bell when dinner was ready. The sound would echo across the green lawns of my neighborhood and find us-wherever we were – by the creek or in a tree or someone’s fort. It was the sound of security and comfort.

I miss that world – that simpler place.

Once a year the television shows that framed our childhood came on: “The Wizard of Oz” and “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” – treats were really treats back then. They didn’t come often, and we learned to appreciate the joys in life rather than expect them.

There are things that have evolved over time, and we are better for them: civil rights, women’s rights, cancer treatments, our standard of living. But still, I point to the past and ask anyone who might remember, “Do you see what we’ve lost?”

We’ve lost something complex and hard to describe. The world is now a messy place-no longer a meat and potatoes place. I knew where I sat at the dining room table growing up. Life was orderly and defined by boundaries and rules we understood.

The Earth seemed infinitely bigger than it does now, too-more exotic with greater distances. To see a tribal woman from New Guinea in a National Geographic Magazine was like looking at the back side of the moon.

But in 50 years, we’ve gone global and many people from my generation feel as if they’ve woken up in a different universe. We are suddenly at the mercy of technology that entertains us, connects us and seemingly sustains us.

In the past week I’ve read several stories that have troubled me involving new technology and the right to privacy. A San Antonio high school is requiring its students to wear a badge implanted with a locator chip so that administrators can keep better track of its students. Perhaps that seems like a good idea to some, but last month’s announcement by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that they were formally proposing regulations to require the placement of “black boxes” in cars was a bit disturbing. Both of these events raise issues of privacy and fairness, even in the name of “safety.”

Engineers and scientists in the health industry are eagerly looking toward microchips to be implanted in the arms of patients so that medical records can be easily scanned and transmitted. We already have chips in our passports and some types of driver’s licenses.

When did we become so complacent?

We seem to accept that the world is swept up in a tidal wave of change and we’re told to go with the flow, but I came from a generation that valued freedom of speech and the right to dissent. Why do we not protest those things that make us uncomfortable? Has it just become easier to let our cars and our children-and perhaps one day our bodies-be tracked by microchips than it is to focus our efforts on the social and ethical ramifications of such an industry?

In 2002, an implantable ID chip called “VeriChip” was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The chip could be implanted in a person’s arm, and when scanned, could pull up a 16-digit ID number providing information about the user.

It was discontinued in 2010 thanks to the efforts of the public amid concerns about privacy and safety.

But scientists and engineers have not yet given up on the idea, as evidenced by the Texas school children and the proposal by the NHTSA to have black boxes required in all vehicles.

One student’s parents at the Texas school have taken the case to court, citing religious reasons for not wanting their daughter to wear the badge with a locator chip. I can’t help but wonder what the parents of several thousand other students in the school district are thinking.

In Missouri, they’ve passed a state law forbidding employers to microchip their workers. “When you’re forced to have a chip put in you as a condition of employment, that’s taking away your civil liberties and your freedom,” said Missouri Representative Jim Guest, who wanted to ban the practice in his state before it gained any traction.

It’s nice to hear the term “civil liberties” being tossed around, but I wonder if it’s possible to stem the tide of change.

But then, I’m one of those people who wish they could plug their TV into the wall and still get channels.

And I’m one of those people who miss the dinner bell.