My laptop has developed an annoying idiosyncrasy in the last week. It seems to like connecting to the web via Wi-Fi in the vast majority of situations and conditions where I need it to work, that is until I try to use it from home. From time to time it simply won't connect using the Wi-Fi network at my house. My techie friends roll their eyes and then patiently roll out elegant explanations of why this is happening and then offer solutions as to how to remedy the problem. My favorite is from one of my own offspring who will remain anonymous despite my funding of his college degree in computer science, who prefaces his comments with. . ."I'm not really a hardware guy, I usually only deal with programming code." Some time later his remarks conclude with the words, "buy a new router." And of course, the arcane incantation or metaphysical rant that was spoken during the space in between these two endpoints induced a narcoleptic reaction in me that rendered me comatose and made it impossible for me to remember anything said in between. While, I know that there is a solution to my laptop's aversion to social interaction that will probably not require extensive therapy or a religious conversion, it has prompted me to think about the ways technology effects my work life.
Several months ago a friend of mine commented to me that in terms of computers, the web and other technical wonders that have emerged during our adult lives; we are immigrants while our children are native citizens. My friend and I are both older than 45, and it is still possible for us to remember a world without e-mail and cell phones. She observed that we generally enjoy using new tools, especially when they work, but we freak out a lot more intensely than they do when a gadget doesn’t work. As immigrants, we are never quite “at home” with the new technology that surrounds us. When things don’t work smoothly, our tendency is to fear that we have done something irrevocably wrong and that we will never get the misbehaving device to conform to our wishes. Whereas, younger people tend to understand that it is the nature of machines to malfunction. Most gadgets have steeper than expected learning curves, and they tend to deliver something less than nirvana that was advertised in the hype prompting their purchase. Even so we look endlessly to these new toys for deliverance from our daily grind, or at least to make some piece of it a little bit easier.
So what does this mean, really? I still have lots of friends who seem to live with a deep seated belief that technology will save us yet. They are always looking for the newest wrinkle in software innovation or the latest greatest bright shiny object. Just dip a finger into the online buzz about Apple’s new I-pad™ or Google’s Buzz™ and you can see how hungry that segment of the population is for anything that feels like innovation. It doesn’t seem to matter if the thing works or not, just let it be something new and exciting. Others in my circle have decided that they just aren’t going to try to keep up anymore. They aren’t really Luddites who are ready to go back to the horse and buggy, but they have seen the pace of change and have decided they have done all they are going to do.
Me, I am somewhere in the middle—I do send text messages (albeit slowly), I use social media periodically, but then I refuse to pay the access fees for an i-phone™. Two years ago my PDA stopped syncing to my laptop and I decided to return to paper-based systems for many of my planning processes because I simply judged the personal costs of transitioning to something unknown as too high. My son tells me that the video game industry is just aching to capture the folks in my demographic group who have not yet bought into this realm of personal entertainment. While my kids’ exploits on Playstation™ have never had much appeal to me, I hear some of my friends talking about how much they enjoy using Wii-fit™ programs, and Amazon’s Kindle™ e-book reader has started to gain some traction with some of us. So yes, I am an immigrant and not a native. The tech stuff matters to me and my work demands that I use it effectively, but from time to time there are these odd barriers to access that simply baffle those of us who were not born into this world. And yes, I need to go buy a new router.