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Weeds: Low-tech guy in a high-tech world

I’m not a big tech guy. There is some technology that falls into my skill level. Like my toaster. It has handles you push down after you put the bread in. There’s a dial to set length of toasting time and a button that will pop your toast up on command. There’s another button that I don’t know what it does, but I figure I don’t need that. I’ve mastered toast technology.

Technology more complex than my toaster gives me fits. Recently Pam and I were driving her Toyota and looking at the display screen that you are apparently not supposed to look at while you’re driving. On the touch screen that you are apparently not supposed to touch while you are driving are the radio and climate controls. We’ve figured those out. (When I was a kid, we had a heater in the car that we hope worked. Now we control the climate. That’s quite a leap.)

We noticed there is a button for “Apps.” Pam touched it, and a whole spectrum of possibilities opened: weather, traffic, satellite radio, messages. Only we couldn’t figure out how any of them worked.

I wish I could report that was a unique experience. Alas, I am afloat in a world of things I don’t know how to work, or even how to turn on in some cases.

Part of that is being 63. But my lack of tech-aptitude goes back a long time. In high school, a kind and patient Mr. Blackstad tried to teach us some rudimentary computer skills. We were to write a program that would simulate the roll of a dice. This was 1973, and that’s what counted as a video game back then. Matt Rausch and Patty Eckstein were part of my group and smarter than me. Still are, I suppose. I leaned heavily on their talents. Actually, they did everything and I tried not to look dumb. I did that a lot back then, with varying degrees of success.

Flash forward to today. There is a technology boom in agriculture right now. If you walked around Farmfest, every booth had an element of incredible science that would have been unimaginable to my father who began farming a century ago with horses.

I recently purchased a monitor for our eight-row planter. (Yes, there are eight-row planters. You don’t have to go to a museum to see one.) This monitor tells me that seed is going into the ground, which I appreciate. But it could also map my fields with GPS, syncing with sprayer information and my combine monitor to create layered maps showing what variety of seed I planted at what rate in what soil type with which pesticides, receiving what rainfall and heat units that yielded how many bushels and how that compared with all my fields.

It could. But I don’t know how to do any of it. Using that monitor to only tell me seed is going into the ground is like owning a Corvette ZR1 and driving it in and out the driveway.

I could go into Miller Sellner and have one of the young mechanics show me how to it works. These fellows are my kids’ age, and I’m embarrassed when I don’t get what they’re saying. Even. When. They. Talk. Really. Slow.

I’ve noticed in talking with friends lately, we are all taken aback with how many people there are in our various occupations who are “our kids’ ages.” It wasn’t that long ago they were playing with toy tractors and Pokémon cards. Now they’re programming software and administering anesthesia. How’d that happen?

A while back, I wanted to connect my phone to Bluetooth in the aforementioned Toyota. After sitting in the car flailing away at the various screens involved for half an hour, son Ezra came by. He took my phone, thumbed a couple dozen rapid taps and handed it back to me. Connected. I felt sheepish; I might as well have been back there with Matt Rausch and Patty Eckstein trying not to look dumb.

If technology would just stand still for a decade or two, I might be able to catch up. I’ll use television to illustrate.

When I was a kid, we got Channel 12 in black and white. We had Gunsmoke, Walter Cronkite for national news, and Chuck Pasek for local news. I knew how to turn on the TV and adjust the volume. Life was good.

Then we got a color TV and began to get stations out of the Twin Cities. I still knew how to turn on the TV and even change the channels. Now we got Star Trek and the Game of the Week. Life was still good, and really, what else could anyone need?

After we got married, we bought a VCR. I could put in a VHS tape and play that for the kids. But it could also record things from the television at preset times. Here technology began to race ahead of me. I never figured that out. Later came a DVD player. The TV channels had to go through the DVD player. Or the DVD player had to go through the TV channels. I’m not sure.

Next came some device so we could watch things off the internet on the TV. That ran through my son’s Xbox. By now the cords behind the television began to look like spilled spaghetti. There were a couple times I had to ask how to turn the TV on. We were getting a bunch of channels, but I missed Gunsmoke.

Around then, I started to fall asleep on the couch watching whatever was on anyway. When a storm bent over our antennae, I was ready to let the whole complicated mess go. We haven’t had a working TV since. The Twins are on the radio, Pam watches Netflix on her iPad, and I fall asleep reading just as well as I used to watching television.

The inventor Buckminster Fuller created the “Knowledge Doubling Curve.” He wrote that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today on average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. It is expected that the “internet of things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours.

I see where this is heading. Even if my brain maintains what I know, and that is iffy, I know less of what there is to know all the time. If at some point I could claim to be at least half-witted, that would be a quarter-witted in 13 months. I’ll be lucky to be one sixty fourth-witted pretty soon.

This is all upsetting. I’m going to go make some coffee. Let’s see. Water, filter, one button on my coffee maker. I’ve got this.

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