Wednesday, March 30, 2011

(empo-tymshft) Modern-day Rip Van Winkle Thomas Haynesworth (cell phone???)

Part of the appeal of the Rip Van Winkle story is that it is so unlikely to ever occur. When is someone going to miss twenty or more years of their lives, and then awaken to find a new world?

Actually, it's not as unlikely as we may think.

The Washington Post has published a story about Thomas Haynesworth, who was arrested in 1984, charged with rape, convicted, and sent to prison. Subsequent DNA evidence showed that he was not the rapist in some of the cases, and he was freed after 27 years in prison. At the beginning of the Post article, Haynesworth's Rip Van Winkle experience was described:

For the first time in his life, he placed a call on a cellphone.

There are millions of people in the United States who have never known a world without cellphones. But Haynesworth, under prison restrictions, had only heard rumors of the device. In fact, his possessions at the time of his release were very few:

Haynesworth, wearing khaki pants and a button-down shirt, walked out of the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt carrying his television and a single garbage bag that held the rest of his belongings.

Presumably his television was connected to some type of cable network in prison, because if he tried to connect an over-the-air antenna to that television today, it wouldn't work.

And those weren't the only changes that occurred in the last twenty-seven years:

Haynesworth has never googled, used an ATM or traveled on an airplane. He doesn’t have a driver’s license. During nearly three decades behind bars, he was told when to eat, exercise and go to bed. He said he’s ready to catch up with a world he knows only from television and books.

Now ATMs certainly existed in 1984, but Haynesworth was so young at the time of his arrest that he presumably never had an opportunity to use one. And how do you explain the Internet to someone who, even if he could access it in 1984, would only be familiar with text-based Usenet and BBS interfaces? Consider the fact that Haynesworth's story was told on something called a web site, which you could view on a desktop computer, laptop computer, tablet, or phone.

Even the fact that Haynesworth has relied on television and books for news over the last 27 years is notable. There are those that argue that television and books are dead today.

But with all of these technological advances, what was most important to Haynesworth at this point?

He wants to sit on a porch, reconnect with old friends and enjoy some of his mother’s fried trout.

“It’s been a long journey,” Haynesworth said. “I just want to reflect and sit down and talk to my momma and eat a meal with her.”

Some things never change.
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