Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Life extends past remote control

| September 11, 2022 12:00 AM

The oil light came on in my car. It was time for a change.

My dad taught me how to change the oil in a car when I was a teenager. A lifelong gearhead, he finally admitted after we groveled around on our backs in the driveway, that I “ought to just start going to one of the places to get ’er done.”

Good advice, Dad, I thought some decades later as I looked to try out a new shop near my new digs. I found one with an open time slot and checked in for service. The receptionist invited me to take a seat in the waiting area and to change the channel on the television if I wanted.

I was the only customer there and settled in.

Since I don’t watch much TV, I picked up the remote thinking I might find something entertaining. 

“You can watch a cooking show,” a passing worker shouted at me, who added a caveat — “but not [a certain news show] or any of that crap.” I froze with the remote in my hand, not sure where the channels might lead me and afraid of the unexpected landmine at my fingertips.

Social media friends “unfriend” on the basis of voting preferences, which ensures they will not be exposed to views they don’t share. Event organizers have begun to request “no politics” among attendees. Family gatherings raise potential political pitfalls. Common ground disappears amid too few agreed-upon facts. Anonymous algorithms presort and determine the information we receive.

We still think better than machines, despite the crowing of AI experts. After all, those machines only know what humans taught them. “Once we believe in ourselves,” wrote E.E. Cummings, “we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

My mom and I always love a good current events debate — the more heated it gets, the more focused we become as we move closer to a truth or a pivotal nugget in the issue. She has a tattered clipping on her fridge: “How do I know what I think until I hear what I say?”

“Stop arguing!” my son would interrupt my mom and me.

We sputter to silence and start laughing.

“Don’t you see how much fun we’re having?”

I know others don’t want to debate current events like my mom and I do. But I wonder about what seems to be an increasing lack of curiosity and a missing sense of history. Ironically, the more information we have access to, the less people seek it out to consider it.

At a Don Lawrence Orchestra concert a couple of Sundays ago at the Eagles, a fellow attendee wondered if she remembered how to dance after years away from the scene. More worrisome, she said that post-pandemic, “I forgot how to be social!”

Hopefully, we all learn to dance, talk and discuss again.

Back at the mechanic’s, I settled my television dilemma. I put down the remote. I picked up a book.

Margaret E. Davis, executive director of the Northwest Montana History Museum, can be reached at

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