PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Shocking News: I Agree with the Pope on Texting, Internet

By David M. Kinchen

I don't often agree with the pope or the Roman Catholic Church on many issues, but Pope Francis said something the other day that appealed to me.  He urged young altar servers from Germany on a pilgrimage to Rome to stop wasting their time on the Internet and texting on smartphones.

I heard the pope's plea  on Fox News but -- Sorry, Pope! -- looked up a link on the Internet:

Pope Francis: It's a lost cause: Young people will never give up their smartphones and their incessant texting. I've read that phone calls are a secondary factor with many smartphone users: Texting is the primary function.

It may seem odd that a journalist who writes for an online publication should be warning people away from the Internet, but I do so out of balance. Don't spend too much time on any one thing; diversify, diversify, diversify.

I've recently followed my own advice and resumed a hobby that I practiced when we lived in Hinton, WV: making pens and mechanical pencils, primarily of wood,  on a woodturning lathe. I enjoyed the hobby and even sold some of my creations. Mostly, I kept a number of them and gave the rest away as gifts to friends. People will spend hundreds -- even thousands -- of dollars on electronics that will be obsolete in a few years -- maybe even a few months -- but are reluctant to spend $35 or $40 or even a few dollars more on a pen that will last a lifetime!

When we moved to Texas in 2008, I sold all my woodworking machinery and tools, so I had to start from scratch, carving out a space in the utility room next to our apartment's galley kitchen as a workshop.  Pen making doesn't require gigantic power tools, so the mini-lathe, grinder and bench drill press I bought at Harbor Freight Tools in Victoria, TX serve my needs perfectly. There are many suppliers for materials and pen kits -- there are a lot of us practicing this craft -- but most of my supplies come from Penn State Industries in Philadelphia.

Pen making came naturally to me: I was a devoted "shop rat" in the 1950s in high school, taking all the industrial arts classes I could fit into my schedule.  At Rochelle Township High School in Rochelle, IL (also the alma mater of actress Joan Allen), we had an outstanding shop teacher, Leonard "Skogie" Skoglund.  

High school was a wonderful time for me, expanding my horizons and helping me find out what I was good at.  Despite ending that sentence in a preposition! I was good at English and most academic subjects. I was OK in science, but not so much in math, beyond the basics. Industrial arts appealed to a part of my brain and I loved it.

The guidance counselors at RTHS wondered why I was "wasting my time" taking shop. I told them I liked it and was good at it.  My first year and a half at nearby Northern Illinois University was devoted to industrial arts.  I had a vague idea of teaching it, but I decided that English was a better major for me, so I ended up majoring in English and minoring in industrial arts -- the only person in the history of the university to combine the two subjects.  I earned my B.A. in 1961.

So, Pope Francis, I agree with you in your plea to young people (and not so young ones, too)  not spend all their free time on smartphones and the Internet.  Work on a hobby or hands-on activity. Get away from all the electronic gizmos and gadgets (weird advice from a guy who has three Macintosh computers and an iPad, not to mention a couple of not-so-smartphones) and take up painting or photography or scrapbooking or any other activity.

The photos accompanying this column show my shop area and some of my creations.

PARALLEL UNIVERSE:  Shocking News: I Agree with the Pope on Texting, Internet
PARALLEL UNIVERSE:  Shocking News: I Agree with the Pope on Texting, Internet

Before I forget: Industrial arts is becoming an endangered species in American high schools. I've asked a number of young people if they have it in their high schools and they give me  a blank look.  Advanced placement academic subjects are important, but so are the skills you can learn only by making things in shop. We were fortunate when I went to high school from 1953 to 1957 to have a choice of many subjects, including an outstanding music program, in which I participated playing in the bands and in the orchestra.

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