'for everyone that dies, someone new is born' photo (c) 2011, Tim Snell - license:

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. Here’s this week’s! It’s bad in Canada; but this situation is even worse in the United States, since university costs so much more there (no idea why).

As a card-carrying fuddy duddy, I can rattle off a multitude of reasons why our culture is going downhill. And chief among them is technology. We text at the dinner table instead of talking. We play video games and lose out on relationships. We find our community on Facebook rather than in real life.

And yet as much as I bemoan the downsides of technology, I’m a tech fan and a tech addict myself.

When my grandfather was 67 he had a massive stroke that paralyzed his left side. For the next twenty-five years my mother and my aunts were constantly trying to drum up things this once active man could do to amuse himself as he sat in his nursing home. And one thing Grandpa loved to do was read.

Unfortunately, holding a book and turning a page when you only have one hand is awfully difficult. And reading is also difficult when you have major glaucoma. To make matters worse, large print books are extremely bulky, thus compounding that hard-to-turn-the-page problem.

He died about a decade ago now, so he did not live long enough to see the absolute miracle that Steve Jobs created in the iPad. Certainly it’s wonderful for keeping toddlers entertained in doctor’s offices, or for looking at pictures or browsing the internet. But when I think of what joy he could have gotten out of it by allowing him to read easily, I tear up. Turn the page by swishing across that screen. Make the print bigger automatically by moving your fingers. It would have enhanced his quality of life so substantially.

Do you know what else has the capacity to enhance grandparents’ quality of life? Skype. Even if you live across the country, you can watch grandkids grow. You can even read bedtime stories! I met one set of grandparents who were “baby-sitting” remotely. Their grandkids were 10 and 12 and could be home alone, but their dad was deployed and their mom worked long hours. So the grandparents would talk to the kids before they went to school, helping them with last minute homework and telling them what to pack for lunch. And they’d check in as soon as they got home, debriefing on their day. It made mom feel more secure, too.

Skype helps our armed forces personnel stay connected to those they’ve left behind at home, too. My girls even find that they’re able to keep close with friends from other cities because of Skype calls. When I was a teen and I met a friend at camp, or at a conference, I may have bonded with them, but the relationship was very short-lived. Phone calls were too expensive and letters were a pain. But today, the majority of my kids’ Facebook and Skype connections don’t even live near here.

One of Facebook’s biggest benefits to me is keeping up with friends and family who have moved away. Indeed, I often feel closer to more distant relatives I’ve “friended” on Facebook than I do to closer relatives who aren’t on the network. With Facebook I can easily keep up with their news, see pictures of their kids growing, and hear about their joys and sorrows and even quirky senses of humour.

Back in the 1980s, Bell began an advertising campaign calling on people to “reach out and touch someone” through phone calls. Today we really can, and it’s all through the internet. Yes, we need to guard against technology encroaching on our real life, but technology itself is not the enemy. And I, personally, would not turn back the clock to the days of rotary dial party lines and bulky, large-print books for anything.

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