Though I’m taken aback at how much of an old bitty I sound like sometimes, I’m not what anyone would consider old. And yet, I often marvel at the wonders of technology. This only serves as a testament to how quickly technology is advancing – particularly how quickly it has advanced since I was a kid.
Like, how did I go from popping Bee Gees 8-tracks into my dad’s car to downloading whole albums in MP3 format in seconds from… I have no idea where?
To put this into perspective, I was in elementary school when the average family was just starting to install PCs in their home. This was mostly for the purpose of word processing and playing games. Remember floppy disks? I actually thought they were cool because – woah! – you could use them to transfer files from one computer to another. Space age kinda stuff, people!
Speaking of games, I actually did play Atari – unlike the posers who didn’t but still want to wear the t-shirt. I loved playing Dragon Warrior on Nintendo. I don’t know how many times my brother beat that game (click here for nostalgic video!) but he sure kicked the Dragonlord’s ass enough times to gain my respect.
At some point during high school, the internet was born and I tried fiddling with HTML, graphics and all that fun stuff to create a stupid web page on the Angelfire network that nobody visited (funny, sometimes I still feel like I’m doing exactly the same thing here). And there was this chat website called Alamak (OMG, it still exists!). My friends and I were excited to be among the first generation of teenagers to communicate with people instantly on the other side of the world and most of us had pseudo-boyfriends in distant places. It was pretty lame, but awesome just the same.
It’s hilarious when you think that people used to believe we might be zooming around in hovercrafts by now, though. We’re still stuck in cars. Our fuel source hasn’t even changed.
But still – I remember the rotary phone, which for some undetermined reason came in the ugliest imaginable colours – and how my poor arthritic grandmother would struggle every time she had to make a call. There was no redial, or autodial for that matter. We were stoked when they eventually came with buttons. We didn’t know we’d ever have anything other than a land line. There was a time, believe it or not, when we didn’t have answering machines. If you called your friend and they weren’t home, TFB. Then I got a pager in university, which kind of made me want to pretend I was a doctor. Or a spy – because we memorized a whole bunch of codes so we could communicate when and where to meet with just a series of numbers. I think there were 3 buttons on that thing.
And then came the cell phone. Cell phones themselves have been catapulted into new spheres of awesomeness. I look at the nifty stuff you can do with smartphones and I think, if this is how far we’ve come, where are we going? It’s crazy! Crazy, I tell you.
And most people don’t even step back to put it all into perspective or appreciate it. In this fantastic clip, comedian Louis C.K. brilliantly explains why we should never stop being amazed by or grateful for technology:
Mostly, this acceleration in technological development excites me. Sometimes it scares me. Like it or not, we’re in for one hell of a ride. There is definitely a considerable generation gap but people seem to be doing pretty well (do we really have a choice?). I’ll admit when I first started using Twitter I was lost. Now I’m in love. Just 10 years ago, I would have never been able to send a message directly to one of my favourite authors or artists and have them respond back to me. And the potential for connecting, synthesizing and organizing globally is incredible – it’s clear that the social and political influence of social media has become very powerful. It seems to me that Twitter is the ultimate litmus test – if you can figure it out, there’s a good chance you won’t be left behind in the dust. Still, the huge majority of people who use technology have no clue how it works or what a lot of common acronyms stand for. For example, although most of our internet experience consists of clicking on URLs, how many of us know what that stands for? Uniform Resource Locator. What does that even mean? And how do shortened URLs work? What’s a meme? I had to look some of this up myself, so clearly I’m lagging behind the kids in the internet literacy department. I do know how to spell, mind you. So we use stuff we don’t understand, but we get mad when it’s not magical enough for us. And we are constantly hobbling along trying to grasp the next cool thing. Maybe we’re not as advanced as we’d like to think we are…
Of all places, I saw this passage from an LSAT which raises an interesting point about what information technology might be doing to us:
It is now a common complaint that the electronic media have corroded the intellectual skills required and fostered by the literary media. But several centuries ago the complaint was that certain intellectual skills, such as the powerful memory and extemporaneous eloquence that were intrinsic to oral culture, were being destroyed by the spread of literacy. So, what awaits us is probably a mere alteration of the human mind rather than its devolution.
Is technology making us smarter? More efficient? More skilled? Less so? Or perhaps just… different? I guess we’ll find out! Fasten your seat belts…