TX. Instagram

In this June 20, 2013 file photo, a journalist makes a video of the Instagram logo at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. 

I overheard a young adult ask her mom how folks ever got anything done before we had the internet and social media. Her mom wisely responded, “Well, do you run them, or do they run you? Because I don’t know how people get anything done with those constant distractions.”

So true! These modern marvels of technology are two-edged swords — helpful hindrances, impressive impediments, informative interruptions.

For me, they’re useful tools that too often sneak out of my toolbox and into my entertainment box — which is why I can go online to learn how to treat a rash and end up watching the Top 10 Golden Buzzer performances of “Britain’s Got Talent.” An hour later I slap my forehead and ask how that happened — until I do the math. Each performance is about six minutes long, there are 10 of them, and even a word person like me can multiply six by 10 and realize another hour of my life just slid away. I scold myself as I put the tool back into my toolbox and resume my rash research, uneasily aware that I’ve just been intentionally sidetracked — again.

So how did we get anything done before all this information/entertainment? Well, we still managed to cook good food. We asked our moms and grandmas for recipes, wrote them down on 3x5 cards, and filed them in a box or tossed them into a drawer. (Archaic, right?) We’d pull out that card, follow the recipe and make a great dish. If it didn’t turn out great, we’d go talk face to face with mom or grandma to find out why. The only picture we took of our meal before digging into it was with our memories.

We used to figure out craft projects on our own, without spending hours scrolling through hundreds of others’ ideas. I recently saw a post demonstrating how to repurpose a small trash can into a nautical-themed beauty by gluing rope around and around it, top to bottom. It was lovely. I’m sure hundreds of women made one. Online craft ideas generate chatter, ingenuity and creativity. But is that because they’re online, or did that creativity exist before the internet came? I recall my mom turning bleach bottles into clever piggy banks, and hand knitting Barbie sweaters. She came up with some of her ideas, and garnered others from friends in idea exchanges at church and in conversations. She didn’t have a worldwide place to share it, but she was guaranteed that everything she created was unique — she never made a wreath that looked just like the one hanging on the neighbor’s door.

Before internet and social media we used tangible, reputable, reliable sources of information. We researched in the Encyclopedia Britannica, or before that, Funk and Wagnell. (I didn’t make that up). Book reports were written after we actually read the book. Geography reports were researched at the library — history reports, too. We typed them out on a typewriter, using an extra grit eraser for the mistakes. We were not sloppy keyboardists. We were organized, and we perfected our writing skills because this was way before cut and paste.

We didn’t engage in the disturbing practice of pouring our souls out onto the World Wide Web. Call me private, but if I’m angry or indignant or depressed or offended, I’ll talk to a live person. I won’t tell it to a faceless screen, then shoot it out for the whole world to inspect and judge. The feedback I crave is from someone I know and value, not masses of strangers with whom seethe potential battles. There’s enough of that going around without seeking it.

The same goes for political views. Disturbing online battles provoked by cruel comments, malicious memes, and he said-she said rhetoric produce nothing of value — they just leave a wider divide and amplified anger. Founding fathers would shake their heads at our current, cowardly methods of so-called debate.

Our world was forever changed with this information overload. It is glorious to learn anything we want online — but the price is learning how to live in the thick of thin things. That mom’s question of who is in charge of whom is worth pondering — and occasionally testing to examine how we filter what we want, what is of actual value, and what needs to be ignored.

That’s how we get anything done.

D. Louise Brown lives in Layton. She writes a biweekly column for the Standard-Examiner.

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