Thursday, December 02, 2010

Changing Technologies as a Boomer Grows Up

I don't know how to be older. I've only ever been younger.

When I was growing up, television sets had one big dial, which you turned through the numbers 2 to 13 to find one of three networks -- ABC, NBC, or CBS (for simplicity, I'm talking only about VHF). As I got to early adulthood, a wire into the house was installed, and that "cable" filled up those 2-13 channels with an amazing array of programming, most of it local. Later, a box was added, and the box gave us more channels than we ever thought possible, opening up a world of networks.

My first computer was a TI 99/4A, and I used it to learn how to program using Basic (a computer language). Hard drives were unheard of then -- programs came on a cartridge and saving data was done on a simple audio cassette recorder. The video was displayed on a TV (the one already in your living room!), and I can still remember the whiny wheep-wheep sound the recorder made as the data was saved or loaded. Pong was amazingly high tech.

Next, an Apple IIE, and an Apple IIGS came into my life along with text adventures, floppy disks, and mono color monitors (your choice, amber or green text). Then came a series of PCs, each increasing in computing power and memory. Color TV was the newest and greatest gadget, although the reds looked eerily other-worldly and seemed to shine and fluoresce.

I was a full-fledged adult when some odd geeky whisperings could be heard about a thing called the "internet." I originally connected when Arpanet was the mover and shaker, finding servers in far off places with interesting articles and documents just waiting to be downloaded. There were no pictures, and no search engines. Things were found by stumbling upon lists of resources other people had found. Mysteriously named protocols like Archie, Veronica, FTP, WAIS, Telnet, and Gopher helped to navigate. Eventually Yahoo came to the information-discovery rescue by creating a way to really plumb the depths of the internet.

I was mid-career when the World Wide Web hit -- at first text-based experience, but graphics could be viewed if a separate application was installed. I was working in Information Technology (IT) -- as a Local Area Network (LAN) manager and a Systems Operator (SysOp), which led eventually to work as a web programmer/database administrator (DBA). At one point, I even knew how to rewrite an .ini file to optimize memory and why a DOS machine beeped at you as the operating system loaded!

Fast forward three short years ago when I left those hi-tech jobs for the fun and excitement of the gypsy life of a full-time RVer. It has not disappointed. But in that short time, it feels like the rush of technology is already zipping past at sonic speeds. I have a phone; it does not have "apps." I have a TV; it does not have Google, it does not connect to the internet, and it does not display 3D. I have an e-reader; it does not have color displays or play games, and it takes 60 seconds instead of 5 to download a book. I do not know what the difference between 3G and 4G really is. The electronics of my world are not synched with each other in any meaningful way.

The distance between being on the cutting edge and feeling vaguely disassociated happened in only three years. 36 months. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1100 sunrises and sunsets.

Being older used to mean being out of touch with technology and not understanding how to interface with objects that only understand interfaces. My father, born in 1910, could not figure out how to make "the HBO" appear on his television. It required turning the TV dial to 3, and then turning a knob on the cable box from pointing right (for channels 2-13) to pointing left -- but those two steps left him confused and frustrated, and undoubtedly feeling old and left behind.

In the late 1980s, I heard that, by the end of the century, people who did not understand how to use a computer would be the "new illiterate." And I think that prophesy came true. How many people today do not have email? How many businesses can afford not to have a website? John and I tend to avoid campgrounds without a website, preferring to check each one online before we pull in. And I keep in touch on a daily basis with many old and new friends on social networks like Facebook, but I almost never contact those who are not connected.

So where is this leading? Today John (and I) unexpectedly moved a little further into the 21st century through the acquisition of a new phone. It started innocently enough: the battery on John's phone died. So we jumped in the car and trekked to the Verizon store to get a new one. They didn't carry the right battery (for one of their phones? Come, on, Verizon!), but we saw a Best Buy next door and decided to see if they could help us.

On the way over, I remarked that it seemed like it had been 2 years since John got his phone, so maybe he was due a new one? An hour or so later, and a Best Buy gift certificate cashed, John walked out with a new Android phone, the first smart phone for either of us.

We have now entered the world of "there's an app for that," a world where we can get our mail during lunch at Paneros, or play computer games while waiting for the dentist to call our name. We can now Google as we travel, and find the nearest Trader Joe's when we are in a strange city and have an emergency need for perfectly seasoned lamb chops.

We may not be young, but we are not ready to be old either. As we replace our technology gadgets and gizmos, we will have fun learning what they do and how to use them. My phone is due to be replaced this May. Will it be a smart phone?

You bet. There are still a lot of Freecell games I haven't won -- and the older I get, the more time I seem to spend in dentist's offices. I guess there's a kind of "technology karma" to that.

John receiving his first smart phone call (from me!)

1 comment:

Doc said...

Brings back a lot of memories -- my first computer - an Atari 400, then 800, then Apple through 2-3 generations, then an IBM PC, and on and on we go, trying to keep up with the latest. My first online surfing with a 300 baud modem via Compuserve and Prodigy and then on to AOL, where I met a whole new set of friends on the old ACLU Free Speech boards, and now the incredibly complex and exciting Internet of today. For an old codger born before WW2, I have embraced the new technology (including my new iPhone 4) and loving every minute of it.