Thursday, January 28, 2016

As the Wheels Turn

Over the last year, I have had the opportunity to get to know a young woman. She is intelligent, funny, happy, and still believes that she has an opportunity to change the world. She's in the process of applying to grad school with plans to do things that I cannot even begin to comprehend -- all for the betterment of humanity.

For purposes of this post, I'm simply going to refer to her as "L."

When I see L, I am reminded of who I once hoped I would be. I see in her the good possible in all of humanity and she makes me believe that maybe there is hope for the future. I look at her and see an outgoing, lovable human who stands up for what is right, voices her opinion when it is needed and isn't afraid to go against the majority when the occasion calls for it.

L is all I hoped I would be but never actually became.

I was once a lot like L, concerned and extremely involved with politics (I wanted to be a political speech writer at one point), believing that my career choice could make a difference to others, hoping that if I could get others excited about a particular cause our combined voices would be able to make change actually happen. Somewhere along the way though, I lost that L-drive.

Maybe it's age or time or the harsh realities when one realizes that it is often far more difficult to make true and lasting difference in the world. Maybe I've become hardened over the years. Maybe personal gain or wants became more important than humanitarian issues. I honestly don't know where or why it changed, but it did.

As a millennial, L does not remember a time without a connection to the internet nor has she lacked a cell phone at the ready. Her first year of life was the same year I began my first year of college (the first round anyway). It was also the same year I traded in my word processor for an actual computer (which cost a small fortune and was horribly slow by today's standards). I held on to that computer for 10 years, at which point I met Sam who was highly disturbed that I was attempting to use this beast of a machine to get online. It took 15-20 minutes to connect to the internet (no lie), and often somewhere in the process it would disconnect from the phone line, but I was patient enough to wait and didn't have the funds to purchase something new so I made it work.

Technology that may have begun in generation x-ers' youth has become something entirely different to the next generation. It has morphed, become more usable for the masses, and connected people easily across countries and continents. In 1985, I may have had a Commodore 64 (that my father picked up second hand at a yard sale) and a joystick for electronic games, but today we can send tweets instantly to anyone and email any time day or night.

I have no doubt that many of those born under the millennial designation don't identify with some things of my youth or the comments I find myself making, just as I didn't understand some of the occurrences and oddities of my baby boomer parent's generation. I suppose it's simply the marching of time.

For me, there are days when I miss having a landline, a house phone. Yes, people still have these, but even my 93 year old neighbor gave me her cell phone number and email address when we exchanged contact information in case of emergency. Ninety-three year old neighbor... a woman who grew up listening to radio, not watching a television with a handful of channels or viewing Hulu or Netflix online as many do today.

I don't dislike technology and I don't mean to sound like a stodgy old fogey (a phrase my father would've used), but I sometimes wonder where technology is taking our world. Modern technology has brought a lot of good, but sometimes I wonder where it ends? Do we begin to create humans who cannot function or do anything for him/herself, or does the technology create a better human - one that can take causes globally more easily?

My friend L is a bright young woman. I see her use what is at her disposal as a tool for sharing information and viewpoints. She seems to recognize that there is a benefit to being in the world and paying attention to her surroundings, but still using technology to her advantage. In fact, even as I have been typing this she was informed (via an update through Chrome, as she shared with me) that she was accepted to her top choice grad program.

When I go about my days though, I can't help but wonder if everyone has this same discernment as L. As I watch people in crosswalks staring at their phones, texting or typing away, oblivious to their surroundings, view motorists doing the same while in motion, or watch families at a meal in a restaurant not communicating with each other, but instead keeping eyes glued to their phones, I can't help but recognize that not everything is positive that comes from our ability to be constantly connected.

What is interesting to me in all of this is that bicycles have survived across generations. They may not have been used in the same ways, but everyone from my aging neighbor to my friend L has had experiences with a bicycle. For some, the bicycle has been a symbol of freedom and choice, for others it represented fun or fond memories. The individual may have used a bicycle to travel across the country or perhaps to meet up with a friend or to get to a corner grocer.

Bicycles have changed over time, but not drastically so. My neighbor doesn't see my bicycles and ask me what they are or request a lesson on how to use them because they are the same basic machines she has known her entire life. No one today would see a bicycle from 1900 and wonder what it is; a bicycle is easily identified and usable, regardless of its year of manufacture. There are differences, but the fundamentals are similar enough to permit use.
My younger brother riding his first mountain bike
When I think about my own youth, a bicycle was often a connection or bridge between my parents and myself. It was a time to be together and to be outside. My mother may have had no clue how to fix a flat tire on her bike, but she would still get out on the roads, towing my younger brother behind her while I pumped my legs in an attempt to keep up. Soon, my brother would pedal his own bike too and the two of us would travel local roads together. These times would leave us with tales all our own that we still share memories of today.

Maybe the bicycle has the power to bridge generations, and maybe technology won't be the ruin of humanity. Perhaps. Like my friend L, there may well be more individuals than sometimes seems obvious who appreciate simplicity, and are able to use technology appropriately and usefully without becoming the fulfillment of Idiocracy. Maybe our world is just doing what it does -- growing, changing, evolving. I don't know that I can ever recover my youthful hope of making a difference in the world, but I am glad to see that it does still exist in others. I hold on to faith that the world's changes are for the betterment of people and not to our detriment, and I hope that my (and your) lifetime is always full of joy and the ability to create memories on a bicycle.


  1. My belief is that she is the exception (I'm sure there are others), but most are unaware of their natural surroundings. It's refreshing to see the awareness/hope in someone like that, and sad at the same time, as I too have been "hardened". As for bikes, it truly is the only thing in our lives that has not "changed" over generations. My earliest memory's are of bike rides, and cars. Guess that sums up my generation, first you have a bike, then a car! I think that we all still have some of "L" in us, because we still have hope, even when we proclaim that we don't, or we "give up", we still do.

    1. For the survival of humanity, I hope L is not the exception.

      It's interesting that we went from bike to car... and then want to return to the bike. I think there is always a bit of that pull to the car - mostly because it has been created as a societal norm - but I think we are happiest when we ride and just enjoy being in our surroundings and not secluded from them in a steel box.

  2. Gosh, there is a lot going on in this post: finding and losing passion, the effect of technology on the ways we connect, and the beautiful, enduring simplicity of the bicycle. I hardly know where to begin!

    I went through a period in my 30s where I think I lost touch with the passions that had driven me as a younger person. The problems of the world seemed too big for me to make a difference and the challenges of organizing my own life, paying my bills, and cleaning the house from time to time seemed to eat up all of my spare time. I'm not entirely sure what turned me back around, but eventually I reconnected with a cause where I could make a difference, and I devoted myself to it. This cause gets my best energy and my most sustained efforts. I learned to let go of the fact that I couldn't change everything and have faith that someone else would pick up in the places where I could not contribute. But I also learned that I cannot allow every moment of every day to revolve around "the cause." If I want to sustain my efforts over the long haul, I also have to indulge in activities and relationships that are just for the sheer delight of it.

    Biking is one of those sheer delight things. It sustains me. And, yes, there is something about the simplicity of the machine and the connection between my bodily effort and the forward momentum it generates that is exhilarating. On the bike, I am unconnected from all of those electronic devices that keep tugging at my sleeve. I don't hear texts coming in or the phone ring. I am unaware of new items in my Twitter feed or what my FB friends have posted. All of that can wait. It can wait until the ride is over. When I do come back to the newsfeeds, the texts, and the blogs I so love reading I do so on my own terms.

    Okay, that post was a mess, I'm sure. Instead of re-reading and proofing it, I think I'll just hit the publish button and be done with it. Thank you for the reflection!

    1. First, your comment is not a mess and I'm glad you just posted it.

      I suppose I should say that I haven't lost all hope in humanity (nor in myself), but I do recognize that the passion and effort I once had has slipped away. There's always that little voice asking me if it really matters, whereas in my late teens to mid-20s, I would've moved forward without even worrying about what might not happen with my efforts.

      I think some of the problem started with volunteering for various organizations through the years and having them not actually put me to work. It was very frustrating to me to see that these organizations claimed to want help, but when I'd show up, they'd have nothing for me to do (and this was repeatedly, not just a single day or couple of days). I need to feel like I'm doing something and just sitting around in an office was not beneficial to me because all I could think was that there were so many other things at home I could be getting done.

      Even more recently, Sam and I went and volunteered at a local organization and while they did put us to work that particular day, we had offered to come back and help with other items and they seemed excited about it, yet we never heard from them again. It's happened with our local bicycle advocacy group too.

      I think part of it is that non-profits can sometimes have many volunteers and sometimes it's a volunteer who's organizing other volunteers and perhaps the particular individual is someone who doesn't necessarily put his/her all into the job. Or, at least that has often been my experience (I don't want to lump every non-profit together as that isn't fair).

      We have also experienced burnout from over-volunteering, so I agree with you that a given cause cannot be everything day and night or we lose ourselves and the things that give us joy, inspiration, and the ability to continue to offer assistance to others.

  3. In this technology filled world, as a parent we are struggling with our youngest son who seems to be addicted to screens to the point of being late for school. We've recently limited his Internet use. Yet this same child loves to ride his bike to school, enjoys sports, and wishes for more snow to play in. I'm optimistic that this new generation will eventually see screens as a connection tool, but still be able to enjoy other creative and physical endeavors. Some are kids in the candy store (like our son) and other folks know when to put digital devices aside and interact face to face.

    I'll turn off this computer shortly and ride my bike home...;)

    1. It's nice that he can appreciate technology and still want to be outside, enjoying sports or riding his bike. I think I look at it similarly to what TV was when I was a kid... so many just glued to the set instead of getting out to play, and parents had to monitor and make sure that the television wasn't becoming everything.

      It's probably a good thing that we never had children because I don't know how I would react to the constant need for connectivity of so many young people. I'd probably have the outcast child who wouldn't have a cell phone and then they'd hate me. I know that everyone needs exposure to technology to be able to survive the world we live in, but sometimes it just seems like it's so much.

      Hope your ride home was fantastic! :)


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