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Spencer Rendahl: Late Adopter

I recently called our service provider, which bundles our cable tv, phone and internet, to find out why why our billing had gone up. The rep explained to me that it was a regular rate increase, and proceeded to offer free stuff - premium channels, a faster modem speed, and a digital video recorder, or DVR - for our continued loyalty. I accepted, and she asked what type of set we had for the installation.

“It’s just a regular old-fashioned TV,” I replied.


“Cathode ray tube” I hinted.

“I’ve never talked to a customer with one of those before,” the rep finally replied. “Is it in one of those big cabinets?”

Yes, I said, adding that though it’s more than ten years old, it works fine. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that we didn’t own a clothes dryer till 2005, when my first child arrived, or a dishwasher until late 2009, when I was expecting my second. Or that we rarely use our clothes dryer from May to November, because we prefer our old-fashioned clothesline.

One of the things I love most about living in rural northern New England is the astonishing lack of need to keep up. It’s a haven for late adopters like me. We don’t need to know the latest music and fashion trends. Even cell phones are optional: some places just don’t get a signal.

I’ll admit that some technology can be a great thing. I was blown away by how much our new dishwasher brightened up our old dishes. And two years ago I broke down and got a smartphone as I prepared to take my two young kids to the west coast for two weeks. Now I can’t imagine life without the thing. It single-handedly replaced my Sony Walkman, prepaid phone, calendar, and address book. As a bonus, the navigation app keeps me from getting lost when driving around greater Boston.

But I worry that the promise of technology – of having whatever we want, whenever we want it – is not always progress. My eight-year-old daughter recently came home from a sleep-over and patiently explained to me that other people can choose from an online library of movies and stream them to their TVs any time. Call it quaint, but I actually like going to our brick and mortar library and picking out that one DVD to enjoy for the week. The Wizard of Oz was special when I was growing up partly because we had to wait all year for its broadcast.

My husband and I have actually considered getting a high-def flat screen TV and DVR. We’d waited long enough that prices had dropped, and with two kids, the ability to record and watch our few favorite shows on demand was attractive. But a technician managed to hook a DVR up to our low-def TV, so we’ve just kept the old-timey set. It still sits safely in that big cabinet - and might just last another decade – or more.

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl is a former journalist whose work has appeared in publications including the Boston Globe. She lives with her husband and two children in Plainfield, NH.
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