NANCY CARLSON DODD: Do newfangled inventions really make your life easier?

Playwrite Nancy Carlson's play "The Majic Pebble" is being produced by the Fort Wayne Youtheater.

Now I know how my grandpa felt in 1916 when he drove his brand new horseless carriage, a Reo for which he had traded two cows, into the barn and right through the other side hollering, “Whoa! Whoa, Bessie!” He couldn’t remember how to stop this newfangled invention, so he crashed right through the other side of the barn. Grandpa, although I never met you, I know just how you felt! Today’s inventions have me totally flummoxed and driving through the sides of many technologically sophisticated invisible barns.

You wouldn’t understand, Grandpa, if I told you everything my cell phone can do. I am constantly amazed when I learn something new I didn’t know it could do … like for instance, the other day, I learned how to touch a little picture which says “Map”, and when I touched it, I was able to type in where I wanted to go, and then it showed me a map as to how to get there! Honestly! But then all of a sudden, a sweet voice said, “Go three blocks and turn left.” I looked around the car. I was sure I was alone, but I checked anyway. Yup! No one but me in the car. “Proceed straight ahead.” That voice again! Could it be my phone? Tell me it’s not my phone! I know Siri asks me things all the time, but I had no idea Siri had ever been to Fort Wayne and knew where this store was. There is also an invention called a GPS, but that is what its job is, to tell you how to get places. I had no idea my phone could do that, too.

Which reminds me, Grandpa, of the first time I saw the forerunner of the GPS. I was visiting my son David and his family in Utah, and we had gone camping in the nearby mountains. David, 3-year-old Tyler, and I were taking a walk into the vast woods, and I watched as David tinkered with a small instrument he was carrying. To my inquiry, he answered, “This is something we used in the Navy. I am putting in our location so we won’t get lost.” Lost in the mountains? I gulped. I hadn’t thought about that, but now I felt safe and enjoyed the walk, knowing that little instrument could lead us back to our camp. Kind of like that little instrument, Grandpa, that you could have stepped on to stop the horseless carriage from going through the other side of the barn. Knowing how to use it could have saved you lots of anguish and embarrassment. Oh, by the way, Grandpa, it’s called the “brake.”

The walk in the mountain woods that day also really let me know how much my son loved me when he said after a while, “Oh, Mom. If a bear comes, take Tyler and run. I’ll stay behind and let him eat me.” Are you serious? A bear? I had never thought we might meet a … BEAR! David would let the bear eat him rather than me? I have always considered that a turning point in our mother-son relationship. He would sacrifice himself for me …well, also his precious young son. However, it has always niggled at the back of my mind that David knew that the bear would prefer more tender, younger meat (namely him) and that, even if he had not offered, any bear would prefer him, and that I couldn’t outrun a bear. But David is now my hero, and if I ever take a walk in the Utah mountains again, it will be with David…. and, of course, a GPS and Bear Repellent.

Well, Grandpa, there are other puzzlements in today’s new technological world, but I am so happy to announce that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Recently, in a hotel shower in Indy, the shower handle indicated “H” for the hot water and “C” for the cold water. Until that moment, I had been convinced there is a plot to overthrow clarity in America! I enter other showers in hotels, and there are mysterious pictures (instead of H and C) you have to decode before you shower! I don’t understand the weird pictures and a person can actually freeze to death or scald themselves before deciphering the pictures! Even in my own home, every shower is a challenge. There is no “H” or “C,” but instead pictures that I still haven’t figured out! OK. Get naked, step into the shower … hmmmm … it only took me five months to figure out that one picture probably is a snowflake and that one is … a sun? Looks more like an exploding star. Next step: Let’s see, snow is cold and the sun is hot. Eureka! Now I can shower. H and C would be too easy! How much sun do I want and how much snow? And every shower handle is different in every hotel! I often think of how all the mattress makers finally got together and voted to remove their tags that said, “Under the penalty of the law, DO NOT REMOVE this tag!”

I wish all the shower-handle makers in the world would get together and vote to put “H” and “C” on their shower handles before I freeze or scald to death. Grandpa, I commiserate with you. Someone should have thought to put the word “STOP” on your brakes. Technological advances aren’t always advances. Please, someone simplify today’s world of technology before I drive through the side of an invisible barn of knowledge.

Nancy Dodd is a resident of Fort Wayne.