John Whelan: Give Me The Simple Life

“I don’t believe in frettin’ and grievin’

Why mess around with strife

I never was cut out to step out and strut out

Give me the simple life.”


While doing research for a course on The Great American Songbook that I’m teaching with Steve Bornemeier as part of the Learning Series sponsored by the Friends of the Eldredge Public Library, I came across the old song “Give Me the Simple Life.” I’ve always liked the song and the concept behind it. The song was written in 1945 with music by Rube Bloom and lyrics by Harry Ruby. Since 1945, it has been recorded hundred of times with the best known by Bing Crosby and Tony Bennett. The idea of preferring a simple life to one filled with complications fits well with the way many of us live here in Chatham. It is not that people in Chatham are adverse to change, it’s more that they prefer to do things as they have for many years. It could be that so many of Chatham’s residents are retired, or it could be that Chatham does not have any cutting-edge industry to introduce the latest technological breakthroughs. But outside of Chatham, the world is changing and changing rapidly.

We have all read of the new technologies. It reminds me of The Jetsons, the popular television series that first ran in 1962 on ABC-TV.

Hanna-Barbera created the animated sitcom with a look into the future through the eyes of George Jetson and his family. Just as Hanna-Barbera’s “The Flintstones” looked back to life in the Stone Age, the Jetsons imagined life in the future. Some of the imagined possibilities have actually occurred, but many have not. George Jetson had a “typical job” in Orbit City. His work week at Spacely Speed Sprockets was an hour a day, two days a week. I’m afraid that the one hour a day, two days a week work week is still a long ways off despite all the “time-saving devices” we now employ. The Jetsons had a maid, a robot named Rosie, who did all their housekeeping. We are part way there, with the Roomba Robotic vacuum, which can clean rugs and wooden surfaces as well as cement and synthetic surfaces. The Roomba Robotic lawnmower is just ahead. A homeowner will soon be able to program the Roomba lawnmower to the contour and dimensions of his or her yard and relax in the hammock while the grass is perfectly cut. I believe Roomba vacuum cleaners have actually made their way to Chatham and the lawnmowers will be here within the decade.

Technology is changing the world rapidly even if we don’t feel it here in bucolic Chatham. Recently, we all read about the first fatal accident involving a driverless automobile. Uber and Volvo have been conducting a test of driverless cars for over a year in Phoenix, Arizona. In general, the tests have gone very well, but on Sunday, March 18, a driverless car struck and killed a woman in Tempe and Uber has cancelled the tests for now as well as similar programs in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. The software system is being reexamined and additional safeguards are being programmed, and the engineers feel it is just a temporary setback on the road to driverless vehicles.

Just ahead will be a significant change in the trucking industry, with driverless trucks and so many truck drivers out of jobs. The trucks will be more efficient and much safer. No Teamsters Union to negotiate with, and no “trucker fatigue,” which is an important component in many trucking accidents. I’m afraid the social problems will be an important issue with the loss of so many good-paying jobs with drivers unprepared and unwilling to be trained for other employment. We will be hearing about this tech breakthrough very soon.

Many of us have “smartphones” and slowly we are learning some of the things they can do. The “smartphone” of today is a remarkably capable instrument and certainly more today than a simple telephone. I know some people still only use it as a phone and leave untouched all the great other possibilities, but as the “smartphone” continues to evolve into your digital assistant, people will become aware of more of the applications. In a recent Fortune Magazine article by Jay Samit, it was predicted that your phone will soon warn you not to purchase that desired item because your bank balance cannot pay for it, or that your parking meter will run out in 10 minutes. The “smart house” is here with “intelligent thermostats” and so many other sensors in refrigerators, other appliances, lamps and soon in window glass, roofs and wall coverings.

Cloud computing and artificial intelligence are here, but the innovators have only scratched the surface of practical applications. AI, as artificial intelligence is called, has so many possibilities. Today it has helped industries of all kinds with so many applications. AI is particularly useful predicting product sales and usage, allowing companies to reduce unneeded inventory thus increasing profitability.

On a more personal level, AI and the cloud are the technologies behind Alexa, Amazon’s phenomenally useful personal servant. My grandchildren rely on Alexa for nearly everything from practical information to entertainment. Just ask and more than likely Alexa will have the answer.

Virtual reality is here and popular now for entertainment. In the near future, virtual reality will find its way into the retail industry and retailing. Again, the innovators have barely scratched the surface. Elon Musk is leading the research on better batteries. The electric car will reduce our dependence on petroleum and make our atmosphere and the environment easier to protect. The range of electric vehicles is already being extended. China, with all the smog and pollution in the large cities, is also working hard on better batteries.

I’ve been warned many times not to write about or even talk about things I don’t understand, but I have to mention the blockchain and cryptocurrencies. We have all read about people who invested in bitcoins and made or lost a fortune. I clearly do not understand it, but the blockchain is coming and its use will revolutionize finance as we know it.

LiFi, a light-based improvement of WiFi, will be 100 times faster than WiFi. I can only guess how that will change the world. Meanwhile, here in Chatham, so many of us continue to live as we did in 1970 or 2000. The tried and true institutions we value continue to be important. We try to be kind and friendly to our neighbors and friends. We try to treat visitors as welcome guests. We go to town meeting and vote on the governance of Chatham as we always have.

We go to the polls and vote for the selectmen who will lead Chatham into the future. I know the technology-based way of life is rapidly coming, but I continue to think Chatham has it right. Let’s enjoy it while we can.