Virtue & Mischief: Wires, wires everywhere!


I shuffled downstairs yesterday morning to fix some coffee and continue the process of waking up. As I advance in years, that “process” takes longer than it used to. When I first wake up, my feet crackle and pop and my stride is probably 12 inches, maximum. My hair is somehow both tousled and flat at the same time. I look more than a little like Tim Conway’s wheezy, senescent old man character he performed occasionally on the Carol Burnett Show.

I arrived at the kitchen and surveyed the general area where the coffee maker resides. It is an average coffee maker, white, plain-looking, with a carafe that holds up to 6 cups of liquid. Its cord lay on the counter, next to two outlets affixed to a wall just a few inches away. Krista’s phone was charging via the top outlet and my tablet/laptop computer was charging via the bottom outlet. The devices’ three wires (one white, two black) were strewn amongst each other like three emaciated snakes snoozing leisurely on the countertop. Hmmm. Which of the two devices should I disconnect in order to make the coffee, I wondered?

I looked three feet to my right and surveyed another set of two outlets for a possible solution. Drat! Abby’s iPhone was connected to one, its white cord coiled in tight curlicues. My iPod touch was recharging in the other, and its cord was wrapped over and under and around Abby’s phone cord in impossible knots. The electric pencil sharpener which takes up permanent residence at that location sat still and (literally) powerless, its stubby black plug temporarily displaced. Behind me, on the wall above the counter space adjacent to our sink, were still two more outlets. Alas, they were occupied as well: Stupid Bose Wave Radio/CD player!!

Wires, wires, everywhere! I suppose I had simply grown accustomed to them and to the devices that had insidiously invaded our existence. Computers, laptops, phones, iPods, handheld gaming thingamajigs. It seems as though the devices and their accompanying electrical cords are multiplying while we’re asleep or otherwise not paying attention. Our home has become an electronic version of “The Trouble with Tribbles.”

Now, I appreciate that my reference immediately above may escape many of you. “The Trouble with Tribbles” was an episode of the television show “Star Trek.” It aired in 1967. As in, roughly one and a half years before we first landed on the moon. Lyndon Baines Johnson was the President, Christiaan Barnard performed the first successful heart transplant, and the Beatles released their “Magical Mystery Tour” album. In other words, I am referring to an epoch in close temporal proximity to the great flood and Noah’s extended ark tour.

There other things going on in those days, some of them halcyon, others not so much. JFK had been assassinated a few years prior and his brother Bobby would be gunned down a few months later. Martin Luther King, Jr. continued to march and preach and labor for equal rights and the eradication of both explicit and implicit discrimination. He, too, was murdered—just two months prior to RFK’s assassination. Riots erupted, sending several U.S. cities into chaos. American soldiers perpetrated the My Lai massacre and the Viet Nam war slogged on.

On the flipside, however, for a child growing up in a relatively sleepy college town in Indiana it was a peaceful and pleasant period, free from the constant stimulation of cell-phones, PS Vitas, and laptop computers. We read books (imagine!). We played board games and cards. We ran around the neighborhood, looking for minor league mischief as we tried to cook up a round of “hide-and-seek” or “kick-the-can.” We listened to LP’s and 45’s, scratches and all, and sometimes taped a dime to the top of the stereo tonearm to add a little extra weight and prevent skipping. We sat on the back porch and watched and smelled thunderstorms roll in. My friends and I spent hours upon hours poring over old Sports Illustrated magazines and debating who was better: Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell? Muhammed Ali or Joe Frazier? O. J. Simpson or Leroy Keyes? Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax? Willie Mays or Henry Aaron? We rode our bikes or walked or jogged wherever we wanted to go, sometimes miles (I swear!) away.

To be fair, though—like today’s youth—we found some of our greatest entertainment with a phone receiver plastered to our ears. Of course, in my day our source was a land locked, rotary-dial phone and the voyeuristic diversion came at the expense of the unsuspecting duo carrying on a cranky, gossipy conversation on our party line.

Krista and I try to explain just how wonderful it was to grow up in that bygone era, but the amigos think we’re crazy. Maybe. They tell us how great it is to “FaceTime” with a friend or play Super Mario Brothers. But sometimes I wish they’d know the delight that comes from staring at a musty, glossy photo of Johnny Unitas executing a hand off to Lydell Mitchell or watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” on a Sunday evening, or reading a Hardy Boys mystery.

By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the column series Virtue and Mischief. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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