Women have a biological clock that reminds them they are getting older and approaching the time when it will be neither prudent nor possible to bear children.
I have a technological clock that is ticking away, telling me I am rapidly reaching the point where it will be neither possible nor plausible for me to bear — in the sense of understand, use or be in close contact with — any new technologies. It is quite possible in the near future that my children may, for my own good, get an injunction to prevent me from further technological exposure.
I think back to the sponge-like nature with which I absorbed new technologies when I was young: Lincoln logs, Erector sets, Lionel trains, chemistry sets and the whole world of wonder that opened up by diving into my well-thumbed Edmund Scientific catalog.
I didn’t notice at the time but all the technology I was absorbing was mechanical and chemical. Electronics, such as there was at the time, was Nerds Only Territory. Electronics weren’t needed to build a working monster or make a potion that smelled like rotten eggs.
From a survival-of-the-fittest perspective, dealing with the elderly was no problem in caveman days because there were no elderly. New medical technology allows people to live longer. As new technology has lengthened their lives, it is fitting that new technology drive them crazy as they live those extra years.
The process is the same with every generation. They go through the five stages of technological grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and getting a 7-year-old to do it for you.
My mother never had an answering machine. We sensed her age and felt superior. As Mel Brooks opined on his “2000-Year Old Man” record, “We mock what we are to be.” Mother said: “I don’t need an answering machine. No one calls.” This was technically true because at 96 most of her friends had moved on to a place with no area code.
I got my first computer when I was 35. It was a MacPlus and within three months I knew everything there was to know about Macs — a condition that lasted three months thanks to Mr. Moore and his damn Law.
I have a law for you — Philipp’s Law of Usable Technology. After 50, the first unit of a new technology you buy will be the last version of that technology you will understand. But we believe we can continue to learn new things, that we will adopt the attitude expressed by novelist Tim Dorsey: “I don’t know how it works. But I don’t understand cathode rays, and I still watch TV.”
When we buy a new technology we study the manuals; we buy instructional videos, maybe even take courses at the community college. We study and practice until we are sufficiently proficient. This approach worked well for all things mechanical. Learn how to fix a flat tire and that skill will last a lifetime. The same goes for barbecuing steaks, replacing fuses, repairing windowpanes and fixing that bobbing thingie in a flush toilet. With all things electronic, immersion learning is a trap. You bind yourself up with technical knowledge you will later have to unlearn.
The karmic wheel turns and soon it will be my generation’s time to refuse a technology my children and grandchildren will embrace because we see no real advantage to it and don’t have time to learn how, what with our calendars being chock full of make-work items such as vacuuming our grandchildren’s ant farms. Excuses that have a familiar echo to them.
I wonder what that technology the ins and outs of which I can’t find the cerebral real estate for will be. The technology that will be blocked by 23 old telephone numbers, the addresses of friends since moved on and the baseball stats of the 1970 Dodgers.
We think this will never happen to us because we are all in technological lag denial. I already gave up on texting. I’m sure I could learn it, but I can’t imagine why anyone would bother.
This Week's Ponder: Am I getting older if I don’t remember the hill I’m over?