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I was in the supermarket check out line last week when disaster struck. Actually it didn't seem that bad to me, but from the store manager and clerks' reaction, you'd have thought Armageddon was nigh. My items were rung up and I'd inserted my credit card into the device when the clerk did a double take and said, "There's a problem with the card reader."

I knew I'd paid the recent credit card bill, so that wasn't the problem. The clerk agreed, telling me, "It's more than the reader. The network seems to be down." He dutifully called the manager, who quickly affirmed the entire store was experiencing some sort of outage. With my luck, this happened at the moment I was about to pay. The manager immediately told another clerk to alert all shoppers over the PA system. He then apologized to me for the inconvenience.

"That's all right," I said. I can pay cash. The bill was for $97.31 and I had just enough twenties on hand to cover it.

"Uh, there's a problem," the clerk said, the manager having gone by now. "Without power, I can't complete the transaction?"

"Why not? Fortunately you rang me up before the outage. My bill is $97.31. I'm giving you a hundred dollars in twenties. I get back two dollars and sixty-nine cents in change."

How silly of me! The poor clerk, sans reliance on the electronics, was incapable of doing the math to verify the change I was due. I suggested he call the manager back because surely that person could do simple math. I mean, we're not talking differential calculus here. Sadly, the manager was not of an age where people actually learned how to do basic arithmetic.

Therein lies the problem. We've grown so dependent on computers to do the basic thinking for us, we've lost sight of basic principles. Remember Apollo 13? That's the lunar mission that had an electrical explosion en route to the moon. NASA got the guys back by resorting to all sorts of out of the box thinking, like using a cardboard box and duct tape to fashion an air filter. This was back when computers were hardly the monolithic force they are today. If the space tragedy happened today, I suspect the computer would never think of such outside the box things. Instead it would tell the silly humans, "There's no hope; plan the memorial service."

Technology accomplished a lot of wonderful things. But when it becomes a crutch for elemental thinking, things have gone too far. So if your child/grandchild or the kid next door can't complete their math homework because their calculator or computer isn't charged, give me a call. I may not know a lot of things, but I can subtract 97.31 from 100 without getting hives.


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