Living la vida low-tech

February 06, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

WOLFSVILLE, MD. - Michael Alper considers himself a news junkie.

He bustles around his Catoctin Mountain home with the television on so if something interesting happens, he'll know. He listens to speeches in their entirety rather than relying on snippets during the evening news broadcasts.

Some people might think Alper would get his news from the Internet or 24-hour news networks such as CNN, Fox News Channel or MSNBC.

But Alper gets his news from the channels he can reach using the "rabbit ear" antennae on an antiquated television set that once belonged to a motel.


He has no cable and no Internet - not even a computer. And he likes it that way.

While many Americans have gotten caught up in a wave of high-tech gadgets and everyday appliances, Alper and his companion, Dakota Sumers, prefer staying removed from the chaos that wave can bring.

For them, life is "peaceful" without all of that technology, said Sumers, who is in her 60s.

And Alper said they're not out of the loop.

"I know what's happening in the world," he said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were approximately 159 million cell phone subscribers in 2003. That's equivalent to 55 percent of the U.S. population.

Excluding Alaska and Hawaii, 73 million U.S. households had cable television in 2002.

A simpler life

Alper never has used an ATM card and the couple does not own cell phones. Alper, 65, of Stottlemyer Road, didn't even start using a touch-tone phone until Sumers moved in about four years ago.

His reasons for not having technological appliances or services that some people would consider basic vary, Alper said.

Alper doesn't use ATMs because of safety concerns, and he prefers the more detailed paper trail provided by using checks to get cash.

When Sumers sees someone drop an ATM receipt, Sumers said she tries to catch up to the person to hand over the receipt or she tears it into tiny pieces and throws it away.

They both find some people's cell phone manners offensive.

Alper doesn't get cable because costs increase regularly and cable providers usually don't allow customers to get channels a la carte.

Being 1,700 feet up on Catoctin Mountain, Alper can get several PBS stations, as well as basic channels from Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Harrisburg, Pa.

They have no VCR, but Sumers has a DVD player Alper doubts is compatible with the television, Alper said.

Before Sumers arrived, Alper had rotary-dial phones in his home and a 9-inch color Panasonic television. They now have three televisions that motels were selling about 15 years ago. One of the televisions has a metal six-button remote.

But they are color televisions.

'Back in the Dark Ages'

W. Bernard Randolph, 66, owns three televisions, two of which are black and white. The third is a color hand-held model with a 2-inch screen.

Randolph said he doesn't feel left out by not having the latest technology. He does feel "annoyed" that the powers-at-be cannot decide whether his black-and-white 12-inch Amtel television will be useless when digital technology arrives.

Randolph lives at the Alexander House near downtown Hagerstown's Public Square.

He uses public transportation or walks because he doesn't have an automobile.

The only phone in his apartment is an old bulky Motorola cell phone he said housing officials gave him to use only to dial 911, he said.

It took him at least three calls, using a pay phone in Public Square, to reach this reporter because he got voice mail the first two times and couldn't leave a callback number.

He doesn't own a computer, but he has a free e-mail account he accesses at the public library.

"I could afford some of these things, assuming my health holds out," Randolph said.

But he feels cable would be a waste of his money unless he got a "decent-size" color set and, having moved here 11/2 years ago, he wonders who he would call if he had a phone. Perhaps the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum Inc., where he helps run model trains, he said.

Retired schoolteacher Sandra Williamson also has no automobile, but she does have a touch-tone phone.

Williamson, 72, of Hagerstown, said she has no choice about avoiding technology because she can't afford it. She does get basic cable, which allows her to watch the tech segment on NBC4 news from Washington.

Not having a computer makes her feel like she's "back in the Dark Ages," Williamson said.

She has taken some computer courses and plans to take another at Hagerstown Community College because she's saving to buy a computer that plays DVDs, Williamson said.

'On the trailing edge'

While retirees Alper and Sumers could afford cable and a computer, they choose not to, they said.

There was approximately a 10-year period when Sumers could not afford a computer, but wanted one, she said. A lifelong learner, she said she wanted the access it could provide to learn more.

She no longer feels left out.

"I have seen so many people get so frustrated and get so angry with their own computers," Sumers said.

Sumers said she feels sorry for people with cell phones and e-mail because they are "on a leash and they don't realize it. They can be reached at any time."

Sumers still hand writes thank-you notes, something Alper considers "more personal than a chunk of e-mail."

Alper, a retired illustrator and designer who worked in advertising, also finds that computers with Internet access can leave people open to "invasion" by viruses and hackers.

Sumers, who has 11 grandchildren, also is concerned about sexual predators on the Internet.

She recalled her daughter-in-law discovering her 13-year-old daughter was communicating online with an adult man. The mother got online and told the man to leave her daughter alone or she would call the law, Sumers said.

"I always jokingly said, 'There's people on the cutting edge of technology and we're on the trailing edge of technology,'" Alper said.

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