Just over a year ago, I downloaded the e-mailed photos of my brother and sister-in-law proudly driving their brand-new green tractor off the assembly line.

A few months after that, I experienced the air-conditioned, air-filtered comfort of that tractor, tunes blaring, planter monitor running. A built-in instructional seat had been heavily used that planting season, evidenced by a few soggy Cheerios.

As we rode along, talking over the latest Internet weather report, my brother stretched his sore muscles, saying he couldn't wait to get in the hot tub.

Then the cell phone rang and he talked with his fertilizer supplier, ordering for the last of his acreage. Two minutes later, the phone rang again; my sister-in-law was letting us know it was suppertime.

We left the rig and walked over to the family vehicle, a shiny 4WD pickup with crew cab, and drove the short distance home to a fresh-boiled meal in a bag.

Meal in a bag? Cell phone? Hot tub? Climate-controlled cab? What's this world coming to?

I have to admit: My first thoughts in comparing my brother's farming lifestyle to our parents' were that farming had lost its charm.

Farming today is a far cry from when we were kids, I said to myself. I remember taking out a sandwich to Dad, walking the same dusty road my brother and I'd just traveled. Sure, I first endured Dad's piercing whistle and rather confusing set of hand signals to find out that lunch was what he wanted, way out in that field. But once I trudged over the freshly turned soil, I had Dad all to myself for as long as it took him to down the food and take a short breather.

It was a farther cry from when I rode on the tractor seat in front of my plowing Mom, who told us stories of Grandpa's farming with horses.

Farming as I'd known it has disappeared. But is this new technology a trap or a treasure for my farming relatives?

As I found out, that fancy new tractor's climate-controlled system has helped my sister-in-law endure fieldwork even though she has asthma. One of her daughters, tied in a car seat strapped to the instructional seat, can sing, talk or hear about Mom's "good old days" while Mom works fields.

Because he has a hot tub in which he can rest his weary bones, my brother won't have the lingering aroma of Ben Gay I swear I can still smell on my Dad. He also won't miss saying "Good night" to his girls when his wife dials the cell phone to reach him.

Okay, maybe the tractor, hot tub and cell phone improve a farm family's quality of life. But the meal in a bag?