Monday, June 22, 2009

Does Anyone Play Solitaire With Actual Cards?

As I am writing this, I am currently sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room for yet another appointment (I seem to be doing that a lot lately). As I look around the cramped outer office I am both comforted and disturbed by the fact that, as usual, I appear to be the youngest person waiting for the doctor.

I have my iPod and of course my laptop to pass the time away, but there is one serene older lady who when she sat down she simply opened her purse and pulled out knitting needles and proceeded to furiously knit away. I don’t know if she was knitting baby booties or a car cozy. All I know is that she was blissfully in her own world and with very little technology to do it.

It got me to thinking what a wait in a doctor’s office or airport would be like 30 or 40 years from now. Would people be content with simply reading a book or quietly knitting or would technology take over with everyone hooked up to a giant monolithic computer somewhere doing their own thing rapidly typing on keys and moving around a mouse, assuming we still have those archaic rodents by then.

It got me to thinking about the game of Solitaire. Is there anybody out there who actually plays Solitaire with a deck of cards? I’ll bet there are some people who don’t even know how to play the game with a deck of cards. I’ll bet there are some kids out there who don’t even know how to shuffle a deck of cards.

Something else that I noticed at the doctor’s office is that the receptionist had a city telephone book and the Yellow Pages by her desk. These are two back breaking tomes that are delivered annually to homes and offices everywhere. The growth in population has facilitated the increase in size of the phone books, while simultaneously shrinking down the font so that all the names and numbers can fit. This sadly coincides with my aging eyes which are now starting to have problems with the font, designed to make everything fit but is impossible to read.

Luckily for me, like so many people, the last time I cracked open a phone book was around the time that I played Solitaire with real cards. What’s the point? Everything that’s in the phone book is online, in a much easier to read fashion and, in most cases, more up-to-date than the dead tree version. It seems to me that each year all I seem to do is pick up the new phone books as they are dropped at my door with a thud, only to throw them out twelve months later just as pristine as they were upon arrival. It’s about time we put an end to these doorstops.

Still, there is one aspect of technology that I just don’t have use for. It seems that these days our urban society is obsessed with GPS units. It wasn’t that long ago that in the war between the sexes you could hear the battle cries of many an exasperated wife saying, “Why, don’t you just stop and get directions?” To which you would hear the male response of, “Why don’t you learn how to read a map, and for the love of God, can’t you fold it back properly?”

But technology has wrought upon us the GPS, the joy of every gadget freaked male. Problem is, some people are depending on their units way too much and forgetting the simple rules of common sense, such as look at the road in front of you. I have come across a myriad of stories recently of dimwits who insist on following their GPS instructions come hell or high water or cliff.

In the UK, while driving along a narrow, steep path in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, businessman and human lemming Robert Jones was anal-retentively following the instructions of his satellite navigation unit when it told him to turn down an offshoot road. End result? His BMW went down the path, smashed through a fence above a railway bridge, and dangled precipitously off of a sheer cliff.

Earlier this year in Bedford Hills, New York another auto lemming trusted the GPS in his rental so much that he apparently thought it was perfectly reasonable to follow the directions directly onto a set of train tracks. That didn't exactly work out so well, for his car or the oncoming train. It is sad to say that he wasn’t the last person to have his vehicle cubed on the exact same track. Another man followed his GPS onto the very same set of rails and, while he did get out in time to make a surely embarrassing 911 call, that apparently wasn't enough to prevent a commuter train from slamming into the car a few minutes later.

And back in the UK, drivers going through the village of Luckington have driven right into the river by following their navigation systems. This is despite all the warning signs that the bridge has been closed. The village has had to tow two cars a day on average.

Are we headed for a point when people won’t be able to make a move without a computer? It is important to remember how to drive on our own, to use our own common sense and to tax our brains enough so that they don’t shut off completely. We need to remember where the road ends; just as we need to remember how many cards make a deck. Because if we continue to abdicate from our minds behind the wheel, then we might as well just sit in the passenger seat and play Solitaire.

That’s the Stuph – the way I see it.


  1. The Economist did a piece on this called 'Destructive Technology'...also The Globe and Mail (or The Atlantic?) did a piece called 'Creative Destruction'...all about technology replacing instead of evolving...10 years ago Wired magazine did a piece on the difference between our side of the pond and seems over there buying power isn't as strong and new technology is introduced with vouchers and rebates(bring in your old stuff get a voucher to buy new stuff PLUS the old stuff gets re-used in making new stuff; rebates with purchase.)...anyway, with the cureent economic crisis maybe we might deserve a new introduction to new technology.

  2. Playing cards...just another casualty of the information age.

  3. Loved your GPS stuff. Have heard of people getting tickets going down one-way streets. There's a Marriott hotel in MD on our route where the GPS takes you through a town and a golf course to their back door when there is an easy street off the 95 that gets you there.


  4. Jewish ppl do on Shabbos. We read actual books and play board games. And sit around for hours and talk to other ppl. Take aimless walks around the neighbourhood. Tell National Geographic, they can do an article.

  5. Points very well taken indeed. I hate phone books for some reason. I refused to use them even before the internet. "That's what the hell 411 is for!" I use to say when Amanda would tell me to look something up in the yellow pages. "Yellow pages?" what the hell is that, a book a dog peed on? Irrational, I know, but I really hate them.

    And GPS with it's irritating voices. If I want someone telling me where to turn, I'll drive with my wife!

  6. Nice essay Peter. I wonder if in 30 years I'll be an old woman doing virtual knitting in the doctor's office.

  7. This is exactly why I still play Dungeons and Dragons with pencils and graph paper. As long as kids still know how to roll a D20 I'll be ok in the world.

  8. You know, I've been feeling rather mystified lately at the sheer number of people on phones while doing things that would require their FULL attention. Like, skiing and texting?!! Driving with a spouse in the car and both are on their respective phone at the red light. And I thought to myself, "Maybe cell phones will keep the divorce rate down...because people have less time to argue since they're on the phone with other people." I saw a 20 something guy sitting outside the grocery store on his break from the cash register, and he was....GASP reading a book!!!
    I thought I was living in the 90's or something.
    Love your blog.

  9. Yes,

    I was one of those idiots slavishly following the instructions of the system in a Miami rental (car, that is)some months ago.

    Ended up in the middle of well, nowhere - 'cause the road indicated on the map hadn't been completed yet (chain gang problems, I suppose.....)

  10. I knit and crochet.
    And listen to the radio at night.

  11. I still play solitaire with a deck of cards.
    Although I am well versed with the technology world, there is nothing like the feel of shuffling a deck of cards, hearing the cards ruffle as they fall into place one on top of another. Another thing that I really enjoy is writing with a fountain pen – remember those? In this day and age of typing or keying (I type 145 wpm)…the feel of the pen tip gracing the paper as my ideas are carefully sieved from my thoughts all the way down to the ink making it’s final marks on paper, makes me realize that the art of writing and critical thinking is almost a lost art.

  12. And when did everyone last handwrite a letter?

    I have played solitaire with cards in the last decade... I think. Certainly since Windows 3.1 brought me Solitaire on screen.