Vantage Point: By Dave Matthews

Dave Matthews

A recent trip to Manhattan, a rare event since the end of the expense account era, exposed me once again to the challenges of technology.

Having successfully reached the iPhone skill level of my 9-year-old granddaughter in three months, here I was standing in front of a hotel elevator (eight of them) that seemed to be demanding I present an MIT master’s degree for entry.

One of them suddenly opened, so we jumped on with others, only to discover there were no buttons to push and tell the thing where to stop. No one told me you have to go to the outside wall with 40 or so numbers, tap in your room floor, and then the thing will tell you which elevator to go stand in front of.

And don’t even ask about the train conductor seeking our tickets on “my device” on the way out of town.

Nearly two decades into the 21st century, I’ve finally figured out that this stuff isn’t going away. On so many levels, we can celebrate the past, but we can’t live in it.

That got me to wondering: Is this is an opportunity for a technology challenge in our town after a busted water pipe tossed our library into unanticipated chaos?

The library (and also with concern for the Helen Day Art Center) was a shock. It’s a place of peace equal to any church, a gathering place of lifetime research, learning and enjoyment for everyone. It’s also a place where 20 years from now its young patrons, born in 2019 or later, may ask, “What’s a book?”

That thought gives me chills. Yet, it’s reasonable; look at the decline in the last 20 years of the daily newspapers in virtually every city in America. Look at technology. The young generations already have the news delivered to their pocket, and research on any conceivable subject is a few clicks of the smartphone away.

What they won’t realize is they are losing peace, quiet and community.

Fortunately, progressive moves in recent years by those who love the Stowe Free Library helped avoid a total shutdown of knowledge in December. Patrons continue their projects via online access to programs like listenupver mont.org (e-books), Learning Express Library (careers), Heritage Quest Online (genealogy), Universal Class (free online courses), Mango (foreign languages).

Still, while reading the encouraging updates in last week’s Reporter, one does sit back and ask, “What will a library look like in 20 years? What 21st-century technology advancements can be inserted now into bare walls and ceilings while we have the opportunity to implement foundations for future services?”

I gather from the gist of things that the insurance money will cover only 40 percent of the actual replacement of destroyed books. That sounds like insurance lingo for “We’ll give you $500 to replace your fully depreciated 2004 accident-damaged Subaru.”

A quick Google is sufficient to remind me that these are not original thoughts. There’s a ton of data out there, some of which might be explored by our library community to ensure we don’t miss the boat on some early steps into the future.

Here’s a quick overview of one website opinion: “Most libraries were not built with contemporary learning, needs and activities of people in mind. They were designed for the delivery of the book to the patron.

“Today’s savvy users also expect more than the basics; they expect an exceptional, customer-centric experience. With more options of places to spend free time, libraries have to live up to expectations and standards set by the private sector.

No matter how many items in our collection, citizens will lose interest if the Wi-Fi is not lightning-fast, the space is not comfortable or conducive to their needs or the services, and space are not highly customized.”

I’m guessing, because of the events in December, that by identifying and partly implementing some long-range money-saving ideas, the community will respond, for openers, with donations from private collections to generate the Mother-of-All-Used-Book Sales this summer.

Meanwhile, this living Luddite has to admit that technology isn’t all that bad once you reach the fourth-grade level of competence forced upon you by the planned obsolesce of the flip-phone.

All those years of missing the really big sports events (like a May 3 Red Sox midweek day game in Tampa Bay) can now show up on the iPhone 7. That device, of course, is akin to acquiring a used car without the bells and whistles of whatever model Apple is selling you this week.

Now, feeling like an expert, I wanted to meet “Siri,” Apple’s artificial know-it-all who is replacing human thinking. Siri seems to be gender-neutral, maybe a hint about where we’re heading? I figured I’d start with a softball question. Siri lost credibility out of the gate.

The brain on iPhone 7 didn’t even know what year Mickey Mantle hit for the Triple Crown.

I took another shot. “Hey, Siri, if God really blesses America, how come 35,000 of us wind up dead from gun violence every year while Canada gets away with about 150?”

I think the mumbo-jumbo answer boiled down to, “Ask your mother.”


Dave Matthews lives in Stowe. His column appears monthly. Write him at news@stowereporter.com.

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