Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Modern Wonders and Ritual

Today Walt Mossberg, the dean of technology writers did a retrospective of technology over the two decades that he has covered the field.  He named a number of innovations that have changed our lives.  Among them, he reminded me that my first cellular phone (more than 20 years ago) cost about $3000 and was about the size of a hard bound book (remember them?).

But I was also struck today by five unrelated events we experienced in San Miguel.  #1 - Video Conferencing with SKYPE - We had a video conference with a friend in San Francisco .   We are working on a project and he had a lunch yesterday with my successor and we talked about possible next steps.   One false start but for the most part the video was clear and the voice quality fine.

#2 - Speaking with our grandchildren and their parents.   We had two FaceTime experiences today with our son and his family in Sacramento and our daughter and hers in  LA.  We got to give them a short tour of the house we are staying in as well using the opportunity to chat and see them.

#3 - A phone call - We had a friend call us while we were at dinner on my iPhone.  That is a fairly expensive event (60¢ per minute) but we got to catch up and to see if he could come to visit during our stay.

#4 - iCloud - at Breakfast this morning I think I began to convince my wife that using the cloud for synching contacts and other things in life is a positive thing.  She is attached to her paper address book - but it becomes outdated almost immediately as it is written.  With iCloud - on her iPad and iPhone and home computer - all of her contacts are kept in constant synch.   She said she still prefers the book - but I think began to appreciate the utility of getting those things all together where ever she is.   iCloud is not perfect but for my money it is very, very good.

All of the first four were mostly not possible even five years ago.  The phone certainly was but it was a) even more expensive, and b) the quality of the call was uncertain.   But the last thing has been around for a lot longer time.

#5 - Watching the Observance of Dia de Los Muertos - This is the second day in what we call in the US - All Saints Day but is a much bigger event in Mexico - called Dia de Los Muertos.  I've been in Mexico several times for this couple of days and I think even in San Miguel once.  As in the American equivalent it is a time to remember members of your family (broadly defined).  What struck me about this time was two things.  First, there is an element of fiesta or celebration but there is also a solemn part of the events.  This is a time in Mexico for families to reflect on members who have died.   In the main church on the Jardin they open the crypt for both days (as I mentioned yesterday).  But we also went to a smaller church off the square where there was a mass going on.  So there is something to this that is more than a party.  As we went into this more simple church we found a number of statues which I believe some Americans would find grotesque.  But they are meant to remind people of the story of Christ.  They are symbols but they are also tied up in ritual.  As we came out of the second church an old couple going to the Centro stopped and prayed a moment in front of the church.   This was not a big thing but it is also not infrequent.   The elements of ritual in American life have often become less prominent or simply forgotten.

So how do numbers 1,2,3 and 4 fit with 5?   From my perspective there is indeed some element of ritual associated with advances in technology - but the difference is that the rituals around Dia de Los Muertos are designed to get us to think about higher purposes.

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