Person of the year

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First published in The Batesville Daily Guard November 30, 2016

Every year, Time Magazine crowns someone “Person of the Year” and awards them a cover photo and accompanying article. Among those who have achieved this honor are Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin (twice), Martin Luther King Jr., various American presidents, The American Soldier, and you. Yes, you. You were named Time’s “Person of the Year” in 2006, and it was purely technology driven.

Nearly all of us use modern technology to some extent, whether it is a smartphone or tablet, home computer, flat-screen television with cable and/or DVR, or a GPS for your vehicle. I even have a coffee maker now that is more advanced than the first three personal computers I ever owned growing up. Technology has taken over our world and it is hard to exist without it anymore.

Remember when you had to pull over and pump change into a pay phone to call someone if you weren’t at home? And if they weren’t home, we just had to wait until later to talk to them — or go find them. If there are any pay phones left around town now, they are likely dressed in graffiti and certainly inoperable. And why not? Just about everyone I know from about age 10 on up has a phone in their pocket now. In fact, I’m actually writing this column on my phone right now.

Technology has afforded so many conveniences that were once regarded as science fiction. Just a few of my favorites: I never have to miss a TV show again because I can set my DVR to record it, and I get to skip the commercials when I finally getting around to watching it. I am never behind on the news because my phone keeps me updated 24 hours a day. I don’t have to risk broken bones and concussions while shopping right after Thanksgiving, and I don’t have to stand in line at the bank to cash a check — or even write a check anymore, for that matter. If I can think of a thing, I can learn all about it in a few thumb clicks. I don’t have to go to a library and spend hours flipping through card catalogs and skimming thousands of pages for tidbits of information, all while being shushed by stern librarians.

With technological advances, though, come compromises. I miss going to the library! The magic of getting a hand-written letter in the mail is all but gone. Actual conversations have been largely replaced with text messages, instant messages, tweets and picture messages. Social media has turned many of us into hoarders of “friends,” many of whom we never talk to anyway. It has also made it possible to stir up problems on a much grander scale than used to be possible. Access to very bad stuff is now at anyone’s fingertips, and it seems shame and restraint are harder to come by than ever.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining about progress. Yes, there are some things I miss about the Old Days, and I remember them fondly. There are many things that are better about the world today because of the innovation of technology pioneers and wizards, but I sometimes wish the world would just push the pause button every once in a while and enjoy the fresh air. Enjoy the simple pleasure of a book with actual pages rather than a digital e-book on whatever device has become their third arm. Enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company without having to worry about digital breakup or dropped conversations due to bad signal reception.

As 2017 approaches, I challenge all of us to hit that pause button. Love someone enough to help them when they need it. Smile at someone who may be depressed. Sit out in the yard with the neighbors and chat. Physically go to see someone instead of allowing a call or text message to suffice. Send someone a hand-written letter instead of an email. Play with our kids instead of just handing them a tablet or other device.

We were all Time’s Person of the Year in 2006 because of our individual contributions to the Internet — whether we realized it or not. Let’s make 2017 the Year of the Person.

Frank Vaughn, award-winning columnist and aspiring author, can be contacted at frank@fnvaughn.com. Follow/like Frank Vaughn on Facebook, @fnvaughn on twitter and fnvaughn on Instagram.

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