This is progress?

This is progress?

It’s no secret that technology has progressed more in the past ten years than ever before.  Computers and other such hand-held devices not only consume us, they now rule us.  Just watch any group of high school-aged youngsters walk down the street with their heads bowed…not in prayer but in paying homage to their iPhones.

The entertainment business, which is near and dear to my heart, has been impacted to a great degree with the advent of things like Netflix and Firestick to be enjoyed on a screen the size of which often encompasses an entire wall.  No longer do we need to go “out” to see a movie, as we can see box office hits at home just weeks after they appear at the theater…at a fraction of the cost.  As a producer of a ‘live’ comedy-based variety show, I’ve often said that our biggest competitor is not whichever other show is in town, but it’s the 52-inch television.  Although I’m severely biased, I don’t think seeing ‘live’ entertainment should take a backseat to binge-watching “seasons” of TV shows.  I’m starting to think I’m in the minority in that mindset, however.

Retail outlets are also feeling the pinch of technology, as many ‘big box’ stores are packing up their stock, locking their doors and going home.  Perhaps it’s a surprise as to the speed of the decline of many retail outlets, but should we really be shocked?  We’re given the choice of fighting Saturday morning traffic on the way to the shopping center, risking having someone crash their shopping cart into our parked car followed by standing in long lines only to be greeted by poor service or…pulling up, click, purchase and our goods delivered the next day.  This type of catalog shopping worked well for Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward over a hundred years ago and it seems to be making a pretty big splash these days too.

Working from home…now there’s an interesting concept.  No more racing around in the morning to iron slacks, wolf down some cereal and race for the bus to please an overly demanding boss who awaits by the time clock.  Things have evolved now to a casual stroll from the kitchen counter to the “home office” where the computer is turned on and we’re now considered to be “clocked in”.  No one will ever convince me that people who work from home will accomplish as much as those who are being stared at by a disapproving manager.  Working from home might be more enjoyable, but Facebook is overwhelmed each day by those who are supposed to be working from home.  That’s ok…look for my event postings if you have a minute.

Next up is education.  For years, we’ve followed pretty much the same model as the one developed by the folks who built the first Little Red Schoolhouse; that being one of having children seated in rows, paying attention and taking a test when the teacher is finished talking.  The upside is that children could socialize at recess and learn how it is to get along (or not) with their peers.  Life, as most of us know it, requires socialization and school has been the place to learn such things.  Up until now, anyway.

Home schooling has become quite in vogue in recent years, but the thing that fascinates me is “online” school.  When we once sent, or sometimes dragged, our children off to college so that they could get that university “experience”, now we just flick the basement light switch a few times so they can wake up, fire up their computer and go to “class”.  I find it interesting that Purdue University recently purchased a for-profit and mainly online college, Kaplan College.  Purdue no doubt realizes that they can educate many more students, at the same cost per credit hour, while no longer needing to heat and cool large classrooms.  Mom and dad are now responsible for footing the bill to keep junior comfortable while he attends class…in the basement.

I’m not sure where this is all going and I’m also not sure I want to be around when we get there.  I’ve always been a big proponent of progress, but is this progress?  Sure, I’d love to see investments made in our infrastructure.  Trains, new highways and new bridges are sorely needed, particularly in NW Indiana where the current structures have been neglected for generations.  Schools are falling apart and in need of millions of dollars to bring them back up to speed.  In fact, taxpayers in several local communities are now faced with referenda which will potentially raise funds (and taxes) at the local level to keep the current buildings operating at a respectable level.  Should we even bother with these improvements if no one is planning to leave the house?

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