By: Chris Warren.
While visiting my brother’s family a few weeks ago, my seven year old nephew volunteered to “help” pick up some pizza I bought for the kids. He thinks my jeep is totally badass and was excited about going on a little road trip. As we rolled along, he gave me a look of sincerity that only a child old can pull off and asked, “Where is the button to open the window?” My jeep is a bare-bones mode of transport, and he could not wrap his young brain around the concept of rolling the window down by hand. I likewise did not get very far trying to explain the stick shift transmission and lack of power door locks. The interaction encapsulated the stark if not humorous differences between generations and how they embrace or resist technology.
People in my age group have a unique perspective: We are young enough to accept new technologies, yet old enough to know what it was like before they existed. Less than ten years ago I was buying at least one and sometimes three newspapers every day, and subscribed to about half a dozen magazines too. Once I got a smart phone all that ended. I haven’t bought three newspapers in the last few years, and the only magazine I get is one that comes included with my membership in an organization. The thirty bucks or whatever it is I pay for the data plan on my phone is more than offset by all the periodicals I’m no longer buying. I am still an anachronism compared to guys like my nephew: He will probably go through his entire life having never read a printed newspaper.
At the other end of the scale, my retired parents still have a “dead tree edition” newspaper delivered to their door every morning. It does not impress them that they already pay for an internet connection offering infinitely greater choices and more timely information. One of my Dad’s favorite gripes is that the weather report is never correct. I’ve tried, with zero success, to explain that one of the reasons the newspaper weather report is always off is because it’s already twelve-plus hours old when the paper hits the porch. Mom & Dad are from an era when newspapers had a morning and evening edition. I spend a few minutes reviewing the news on line before leaving for work each morning, and I use my phone to update myself a few times a day. Print media has been in a death spiral for years and it’s squeaking by only because of people like my parents. I don’t know a single person in my age group or below who regularly reads a newspaper.
If it’s true young people take well to technology, then it’s not much of a reach to conclude they are least able to live without it. Teenagers are constantly staring into their phones because, well, they are not capable of going more than ten minutes without checking in with their friends. I can’t smack them around too much on this one, though: I too am lost in the little screen a lot more than I’d care to admit. In the business world the reasons may be more legitimate but the addiction is just as bad. There no longer is such a thing as being “out of the office”. My boss expects me to be responsive and there are very few acceptable excuses for not being available.
It seems that for every new annoyance technology creates, an old annoyance is eliminated. And I think most of the new annoyances are not inherent to the technology, but rather, how it’s used. In another time all my great words would have been generated on a typewriter, on paper, then sent to a publisher…assuming I could convince a publisher I had something worth printing. This blog is created with a Macbook and Open Office, and through the magic of the internet I am my own publisher, how many readers I have notwithstanding. I miss the IBM Selectric and White Out days like I’d miss stomach flu. If you were born too late to use an IBM Selectric or White Out (or don’t even know what they are), say a little prayer of thanks.
Those of us who are old enough to have lived through the transition to the internet and a techno-centric society can see it both ways: It’s great to have cool features on cars but we miss the days when cars were low tech enough to work on without plugging them into a laptop. We love our smart phones but at times resent the expectation that we remain constantly in touch with everyone in our circle. Electronic banking is easy and efficient but there’s security risks. And everyone is concerned about more and more government snooping into every little thing we do. Modern life offers plenty to love and plenty to hate.
The stress of resisting technology is greater than the stress of accepting it. I realize that’s a hard reality to grasp when sitting on hold lost in the special hell of “press one for billing, press two for sales,” but as someone who has had the dual experience of having to run to deposit a paper check in the bank before they close at 1:00 pm on Saturday (and then wait until Tuesday for it to post) versus depositing it electronically through my phone at 10:00 pm Sunday night and seeing the updated balance in real time, I can say with complete assurance that modern conveniences solve more problems than they create.
Guys like me are nostalgic for the straightforward simplicity of the old days, even if those days weren’t so long ago, while at the same time recognizing that iPads and high definition TV and zippy internet is pretty cool, even if they don’t always work flawlessly. The gadgets and gizmos give me more “screw this!” moments than I would care to endure; my rage tempered by a Zen-like moment to affirm that I would not enjoy going back to buying newspapers every day and balancing my checkbook by hand –oh wait– I don’t use checks anymore! People like my parents are understandably given some deference due to their age. As for me and my peers, we don’t feel too old to try new things, but we are old enough to remember a time when not having so many of contemporary life’s bells and whistles wasn’t all that bad.