The old lamplighter |

The old lamplighter

Years ago, streetlights in cities were fueled by natural gas. Each night before dark, a “lamplighter” would walk street by street with a stepladder and a long wick-type device.

Climbing up, he would turn the gas on and light each lantern. The next morning the lights were turned off.

This cycle was repeated, day after day, year by year. Imagine the labor involved? My son Doug reminded me about this while recalling his days as a telecommunications engineer with Pacific Bell. One of his areas of responsibility was in Dana Point, Calif. In the 1930s, developers planned to make this area the “Mediterranean of the West.” Each street was to have different colored lamps, such as Golden, Blue, Violet, Yellow, etc.

Unfortunately, the Great Depression bankrupted this developer’s plans. However, today when visiting Dana Point, you’ll notice the street names were kept. Doug and I began talking about how much other things have changed over the years. While growing up, I listened to the radio. One serial was “Dick Tracy.” He had a wristwatch to communicate with others. This will never happen, we thought. Yet today, we now have watches that do much more than that.

In 1946, the year Doug was born, the first computer was invented. It took up a lot of space in a warehouse and had very limited capability. Before transistors, there were many tubes involved. Moths and other bugs used to get into these computers, shorting them out. My son David, the computer expert in the family, told me that this is where the term “computer bug” was derived.

Today’s “smart” phones can do many times more than those old devices. This old gal would love to know who made up this name? Guess you have to be “smart” to use one, and Doug and I are leaving that duty to grandchildren and great-grandkids. We’re just not up to staring into the screen, and flipping our fingers to scroll through things.

We’ll use arthritis as an excuse not to learn, I guess?

Perhaps I’m too old-fashioned. I’m concerned about the changing way we talk to one another. “Word of mouth” has become “text through device.” Take some time to look around you. While eating out the other day, Doug and I saw a couple shoving down food with one hand, while playing with their smart phones with the other. Not one word was spoken during the entire meal except to the waitress and the cashier.

Some may call this progress, I don’t. Kids today aren’t learning how to write a letter or send a real card through the mail to a loved one. Email is way we do things. That brings up the way we pay bills. It used to be cash only, and then it was checks, then credit cards. Now we have auto-pay, one thing that will help older folks make sure bills get payed on time.

I have some doubts about this. There have been many recent hacks into computer systems. Personal information is an oxymoron. It seems everyone may have access to our most intimate information, such as health records, Social Security and tax records Facebook, while getting many together in a positive way, has it downside. People posting they are in such-and-such a place on vacation have had their homes robbed.

In World War II, the saying was “loose lips sink ships.” This still applies today. Anything done in a computer can and will come back to bite you sometime in the future. We’re still on Windows XP of all things. Yet, some say this was one of the better systems. Day by day though, it gets more difficult do put off and deny that change does happen, and one must move on.

Computers run our lives. There are programs for everything, including appliance in the house. That brings me to today’s cars. Back in ancient times, cars (horseless carriages) had gaslights and no turn signals. Soon, cars had batteries and electric lights. Turn signals then followed. Doug and I still remember driver’s tests requiring the knowledge of hand signals. We see another hand signal from time to time.

It’s the one hand, one-finger type when people wish to let another driver know how they really feel, a most direct form of communication indeed. In 1964 at the New York World’s Fair, Walt Disney had a display showing self-driving cars. Today, that’s a reality. I wonder though, will the one-finger salutes survive this change?

Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer and columnist. She may be reached at