Technology surrounds us, envelopes us, weakens our resolve and rules us.
That is not out of George Orwell's 1984, it is from Ken Root's "2001, A Farm Odyssey."
We are embracing a computer-based world, at unprecedented speed. Is it time to rebel or should we continue to go with the flow?
My grandfather bought a Model T Ford in 1914, when he was 57 years old. He paid $600 for it and was very proud of his new horseless carriage. The problem was, he couldn't drive it. My father, who was 7 at the time, said Grandpa pulled into the yard, yelled "Whoa!" and ran into the side of the house. In 1917, when the soldiers came back from the war, he sold it and never drove again. He returned to the seat of a hack and drove horses until he died in 1932.
There are a lot of parallels between today's computers and the first cars. Both introduced an unexplainable technology to the masses. Both were confusing. The Model T had three pedals and no gearshift. A computer makes you press "start" to stop. In their infancy, both had a tendency to break down for no reason, but when either one worked, it was a true marvel of modern engineering.
Today, many of us embrace technology just for the sake of doing so. I am still not convinced that precision farming utilizing yield monitors and global positioning satellites is making anyone any money, but its just too darn fascinating to pass up. Maybe if you stare at the color variations long enough, something will pop out?
How long can you buck the trend and refuse to own a computer or a cell phone? Since 1999, computer use by farmers has grown from 29 to 43%. Statistics show the bigger the farm, the more advanced the farmer. Seventy-three percent of farmers with an annual income in excess of $100,000 are using computers and 58% of these are wired to the Internet. Even though the cost is high and the service is marginal, cell phones now are in literally every truck or tractor.
I stopped at a restaurant, in a small town last winter, and saw a man wearing overalls. I thought he had the look of an independent fellow, but I noticed his pliers pocket had a cell phone antenna poking out. When he sat down, he took a Palm Pilot out of his bib pocket to do some figuring and find a phone number. It seemed he had the best of both worlds--wearing comfortable and working "techie."
What it comes down to is the advantage or convenience one seeks to attain by adopting new technology. A complex business can be sorted out by using a complex machine to do simple tasks. A person who is on the go and wants to stay in touch with customers, lenders, vendors and landlords can show his willingness to try harder with a cell phone or Internet access.
There are some that just say, "No, I'm not going to grip a mouse or carry a ringer in my pocket. Call me before seven or after nine." That is the message I get from the low tech, hard working farmer. He is not a favorite with companies who want to sell him their products or buy his. Bigger businesses are finding new means of communicating and trading, in order to achieve faster service at a lower cost, and the low-tech farmer won't play along. Still, these companies are careful not to be too aggressive after watching the dot com companies fail in their attempts to pull farmers onto their web sites to do business.
The world just seems like it is spinning faster and getting more complicated all the time. It is getting harder to be like Grandpa and die with dignity, while still clinging to the old ways of doing things. The allure of being on line or accessible from anywhere is just the first pull into the age of high technology. Soon, your tractor dealer may offer to monitor your machines from his office and send a repair truck before one breaks down. You may be able to get on one combine and have three follow you--without drivers! It is a brave new world that is going to get you. It is not even about if; it is a matter of when.