Technology is going to be the end of civilization — and I’m not referring to weapons.

“You know, I’m terrible at directions,” says the sales associate behind the register.

He is scanning the barcode on a metal wall hanging of a compass.

“My dad keeps telling me I need to learn how to tell my direction but I just can’t,” he finishes, the register beeping in the background.

I pause. I’ve heard this before. It worries me. I wonder about the day technology all goes offline. We’ll be doomed.

“You know,” I say “there are only four directions. North, south, east and west.”

Silence. I’m not making any headway.

“Here is a helpful hint. The sun comes up in the east and sets in the west. Figure that out and you can pretty much go from there.”

The young man smiles.

“Yeah, thanks,” he says handing me a paper receipt.

I really do worry about the day all these networks and all the electronics go down. I’m not a doomsdayer, but at some point in life, we are all going to find ourselves dependent on our wits and ability to think on our feet. And not getting a signal is not going to be an excuse.

There is something to be said for a Kindle that never runs out of battery life. Yes, I mean a physical book with paper pages and if recycled, will decompose into the dirt.

The other day my son called to tell me about a car sold in Japan with roll-up windows. He was honestly intrigued at the simplicity. And I guess for anyone born in a world where a cell phone quickly became an extension of your arm, this would sound fascinatingly and refreshingly simple.

The next battle may very well happen on a field of ones and zeros — software code, that is. Every nation currently contains groups who work feverishly to crack into the digital vaults of whatever adversary — or ally — they wish. Why blast missiles from submarines when, with a well-placed change in a code, someone can take out a strategic electrical grid or create false data?

Which goes back to the day we potentially are looking at our phones or other computer sources and having to step back and ask whether what they are saying passes the sniff test.

Will we have the critical mental skills to operate outside of a world absent of computer-generated information? Can we read the clouds and tell what is going on with an approaching storm? Or, can we figure out how to troubleshoot when the vehicle we are driving suddenly stops on the side of the road?

I am not a survivalist by any stretch of the imagination. If the dinosaurs reappeared on Earth today, I might be one of the first snacks they nosh on.

But I can promise you if I ran across a secret notepaper note telling me to head west for safety, I am confident I would successfully find my way.

Leonard Woolsey: 409-683-5207;

(9) comments

Carlos Ponce

"Will we have the critical mental skills to operate outside of a world absent of computer-generated information?"
Interesting that you mention compass directions. I went with my sister's family to a Rice-Texas football game at Rice Stadium. My sister's brother and sister in law were trying to figure out which entrance was closest to their seats. Tickets said
"West" entrance. Neither could figure out where the "West" entrance was. Both were LMHS honor graduates and graduates of the University of Texas. The brother in law was a science teacher in Phlugerville, the sister in law worked as a librarian at the UT-Library. "That way", I chimed in, pointing towards the setting sun on a late Saturday afternoon. "How do you know?" I was asked. "The sun still sets in the west, doesn't it?," I replied. I still remember the look on their faces after I reminded them what every grade school student knows - or should know.

George Croix

"Which goes back to the day we potentially are looking at our phones or other computer sources and having to step back and ask whether what they are saying passes the sniff test.'

No weapon is as powerful as the collective ignorance and resulting outrage of a mass of people willing to believe whatever they are told to believe...because it's easier than thinking for themselves.....
We're already well on our way into that, Leonard....[ohmy]

As someone who's 'tech' in grade school was a Big Chief tablet and one of those 1/2" diameter pencils, and who wouldn't buy a 'smart' phone until 3 years ago, I understand your lament, and polite warning to all.....
Darwin WAS right. Without batteries, electricity, and fuels, we'd be RAPIDLY backtracked a few centuries in practical effect, but primarily because now most of us would not be able to get food after a very short time and drinking water would become equally dear after the towers drained...
There's no app for that.............[wink]

I must admit, though, it's hard to top your example of anyone old enough to hold a job who can't find the 4 most base compass directions...

Wayne Holt

The only reason most people aren't concerned about how far out on the technology limb we are is because they are used to things working for the most part...and they rarely are faced with the reality of the interconnectedness of modern systems. How rare is that? Rare enough that when I read your headline I really was expecting a twist to be delivered at the end to sooth us all that, "it couldn't happen here." I respect your willingness to be truthful about the potential for a situation few of us would be able to weather.

This is a key point in the whole narrative about the importance of undertaking decentralization of energy distribution, food production, employment, ad infinitum. We have reached a point where minor wrinkles in one sector of a modern society can be amplified to extremes as the effects ripple through subsequent market participants.

Speaking of survivalists: As one survivalist wag mentioned, when it came to a choice between being a survivalist and the alternative, he was fine with the tag.

Jose' Boix

A developing concern I have had about the loss of the basics overtaken by technology. So we become reliant on the "response" of the tool and accept it, but lack the rational thought of the reason for the "response." Therefore, we "blindly" go North because the "tool" indicates so... Not a good trend in my opinion.

Carlos Ponce

"No phone, no lights, no motor car,
Not a single luxury,
Like Robinson Crusoe,
It's primitive as can be."

Jim Forsythe

Do you know how to do the following
How to Triangulating your position.
How many paces will you have to take, to equal a mile.
DO you know why landmarks are important in crossing country hiking.
DO you know how to use a compass to find degrees to follow,and not just for finding North.
Can you tell time with just a stick.
Can you find black moss, pine pitch to help in making a fire, and know how to use it..
Can you make fire without matches.
Can you catch a fish with just your hands in the water.
Can you read the grass, to tell the prevailing winds.
Can you make a solar well for drinking water needs?
Can you purifie water without chemicals..
Can you find your way at night , just using the stars.
Do you know how to make a shelter, in deep snow.
These are just a few of the skills the people in the past had to know to survive. These are skills that you should know if you are going to be outdoors. Even if you are just going to be driving in that area , it is important.

George Croix

I can do a lot of that, Jim. But as long as my solar cell recharging devices and hefty supply of batteries hold up (pay attention, Bailey....I TOLD you I'm supportive of viable alternate energy sources.....[beam]...), I can take some's also best for us to keep in mind that skills done in the garage or back yard may fail us when actual real life pressure is on and we HAVE to succeed on our own.....may....
Well, due to that, and select, uh, other preparations.....[beam][beam]
A BIG problem in a societal breakdown, which is what looting and scrambling for supplies after a disaster is, and these days, lack of handheld tech to tell someone what to do like Leonard referred to, is keeping someone else from taking Your Stuff away from you.
Only one guy got away with thinking saying 'Cut that out!" was a meaningful and effective way to stop bad actors.....!!!
Mustn't prepare to just have resources, but also to hang onto them......

Jose' Boix

Mr. Forsythe, your list seems to come right out "The Scouting Guide to Survival: An Official Boy Scouts of America Handbook." Agree, we are depending on the tools' response and not learning the basics. Just my thoughts.

Jim Forsythe

Jose' , between being a Boy scout and a leader I was with the scouts for over 20 years.

Boy Scout Fieldbook has most if not all these skills for a person to use.
The guide was based on skills needed to survive .
For anyone that may need outdoor skills', a copy of this book or other books on the subject, need to be packed.
What I listed are some of the basic skill one needs.

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