Thursday, September 14, 2006

Out of touch

I often wonder what our lives would be like if we just didn't know some things. What if we'd never seen a computer and walked into a room and saw someone sitting and hitting keys while looking at a screen filled with a bunch of squares, strange symbols and words.

What would we do if for the first time ever we saw someone pull a gadget from their pocket, put it up to their ear and start talking? What would we do if they suddenly pointed that object at us and pushed a button? What would we do if they brought it our way and showed us the picture they just snapped?

These thoughts always take me back to old Rip Van Winkle, Washington Irving's comic character who got so tired of his wife's nagging that he and his dog went off to the woods and fell asleep for 20 years. When he woke up, his dog was dead, his nagging wife was long gone and his musket had rusted. Must've been a bit of a shock for Rip to know things had changed so dramatically during his nap.

Every time I think of his story, it's easy to get lost in thought about what it would be like to go through such an experience. Folks who suffer comas from accidents and then wake up weeks or months later could probably provide some intriguing stories about the sensation of learning that the world kept spinning during their extended naps. Bad things happened. New rules governed their lives. New-fangled stuff had replaced things like pencils, typewriters and dial-up phones.

In today's instant-communications world, I can't imagine anything besides a long nap keeping anyone immune from the major events. Well, that does happen on occasion, and I read a prime example of such an occurrence this morning on the SHS alumni site.

It was written by Colt Mehler (Class of 1992), an aeronautical engineer and aviation consultant who lives in Boise and travels as far away as Germany to do his work. Colt is definitely up on technology since he's one of the three young men who developed the alumni site and continues to improve its offerings.

Colt tells of an experience where he learned one day the world had changed dramatically---seven days after the fact. His comments were written in response to a forum on 9-11 memories. Here's what he wrote:

I was one of the few who did not know about the tragedy that transpired until 7 days after 9/11.

I was on a rafting trip with 20 other individuals going down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. We were camping on the sandy shores each night of our 14 day expedition. We had been watching the satellites, airplanes and shooting stars each night as we gazed out from the canyon floors. About half way through the trip we didn't see any more air traffic and we just assumed that we were out of the flight paths of the nearby airports. We met only a few other rafting companies, all of which had been on the river longer than us and were not aware of the event that had transpired.

It wasn't until we pulled out on the 14th day of our trip that we were each given a newspaper from 9/12. All of us sat silent as we read the headlines in disbelief.

As I recall, another of my former students, Sarah Aavedal, had a similar experience, though for not as long. She was in the back country of South Central Idaho and did not learn of the tragedy for at least a couple of days. Colt, Sarah and others must have an interesting perspective, knowing that there are still places on this earth where people can still escape the headaches of society. Definitely an interesting phenomenon in today's world. It would be fun to know the feeling.

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