The title of this post is a quote from Arthur C. Clarke. I’m reminded of it frequently during a visit from my parents, who have an average age of 73. Despite the fact that I worked for Internet companies for more than a dozen years, they often view connected technology as some sort of sorcery. They are awed of it, with frequent anecdotes about other people that end with, “…and she looked it up on her phone thingy and there it was!” Yet they are also frightened. My father won’t touch the Internet and my mother stays on the periphery of recipes and coupon sites, though she’s getting better at researching travel. She’s had computers for a long time — I started giving her my slightly-outdated tech about 15 years ago and she bought her first laptop this year — but my husband and I expect to spend hours of any visit providing tech support.
Yesterday they told me a long story about driving from store to store trying to find “those floating balloon-type things that you set fire to and then let go.” The story involved frustration, triumph as they found a few lanterns, then humor as they discovered a huge pile of them at the only store in their small town, which they hadn’t checked. If I were looking for the same thing, I would have searched for a likely name, probably “flying lanterns”, discovered millions of results and that the more common name is “sky lantern”. Then I would have searched for the best price and shipping for a lantern style I liked. Five minutes later, I would be done.
My way is faster, easier, and less expensive. However, it doesn’t give me the story — which will surely grow into an extended quest with future tellings — or the feeling of triumph at the end. I don’t have the funny postscript. While I won’t equate shopping for lanterns with the Hero’s Journey, I wonder if we are losing something important as we gain convenience and efficiency.