Rheta Johnson: A world apart

December 7, 2013 7:37:44 PM

Rheta Grimsley Johnson -


FISHTRAP HOLLOW -- Lightning or some other benevolent act of fate struck the magic modem that brings this technology-heavy century into our otherwise peaceful home. 


For two quiet and wonderful days, we sat next to the wood stove in the kitchen, forced to talk to one another for entertainment. It felt almost strange, not having to wait for a written response. I read an entire novel in one day and made soup and picked up the telephone to call a few friends. I played CDs I had forgotten I had and swept the walk. 


But then the phone company got efficient and sent me a brand-new modem, which meant two full hours on the telephone with a kid whose heavy accent could not disguise the contempt he felt for a pathetic old woman who didn't know where the "windows" key was. Soon we called Brad, the local computer guru. 


I once again am online, with all its benefits. So I have had virtual conversations with virtual friends in virtual places. I've ordered two or three items I did not really need and managed to "design" a Christmas card.  


When I bought this old farm 25 years ago, the pattern in my mind was my grandparents' South Georgia home. I knew I'd never grow peanuts and row crops and my own beef here, but I imagined I could copy the aura of simplicity, the feeling that you had landed on your own planet and don't need the rest of the galaxy. 


At times, I almost succeeded. There were five years with no television, drinking water straight from the dependable spring, so little traffic you could count the cars in single digits. Cellphones didn't work from here, and like-minded folk were drawn to the porch. Musicians even praised the acoustics of the hollow and sang their hearts out by the branch. 


But the tentacles of technology gradually got a stranglehold on this remote place, making life more comfortable and exciting and like the rest of the world. I hadn't counted on such great change in so little time. 


The seductive power of the Internet is unlike any the world has ever faced. You can type a few words into an address bar and learn how to make a gingerbread house or a bomb. You can stay in touch with old friends or "talk" sexy to strangers. You can buy pecans or political influence, mink coats or fatwood to start a fire. 


No other machine in this house transformed it so. Not the television, tethered to a satellite, nor the telephone, bleating with calls from Unknowns. Not the CD player or the microwave. Not even the ice maker, back when it worked. 


People learn to live without sugar or meat when it threatens their health. They give up alcohol and caffeine. But the computer addiction is more powerful than any of the above, and IS so intrinsically linked to our professional and personal lives, there is no way of climbing back out of the rabbit hole. 


I am writing this on a laptop keyboard before it is sent to a Florida editor who forwards it to newspapers for a New York syndicate. This computer literally is my bread and butter, same as my grandfather needed his tractor and hoe. 


Only difference is, he didn't spend the night in the barn with his tractor.