Sunday, August 19, 2012

Me and technology

During the week I occasionally get ideas about writing something for my world beating blog. Sometimes I write several or even many pages and then set it aside for weeks, months or potentially forever. Other times I just think about “stuff” and nary a word makes it to paper. The last two weeks I did a bit of driving heading to various courts and had a number of ideas in the car. Not really being able to write much while driving, I knew I would never remember them when I got around to actually drafting something and in fact now have no idea what those things might have been - just that at the time, they seemed like really good ideas. I think one had to do with the almost universal cooperation and politeness that exists in our society (and is so evident virtually every second of the day when we drive) that dwarfs the conflict and mayhem to which it seems almost all of us, and certainly those in media, dedicate most of our attention. Another had to do with the Paul Ryan and his conveniently heightened interest in the epistemology of St. Thomas over that of Ayn Rand.

The technology has long existed where I could remedy the "writing while driving" problem. Almost 20 years ago I myself would often dictate in the car into a small hand held dictating machine I could operate with the press of a few buttons after doing a deposition. I know that my pathetically simplistic cell phone (rumors that it has a hand crank were started by me) has a record function itself. But, now, the technology is so insane that you can talk to a little hand held computer and a humanlike voice will respond with information. I know, because I see it advertised on television all the time and have also seen friends use it.
The voice is clearly robotic. We have heard these voices for a while now, in the entertainment world, but more often on the telephone when we call a company that doesn’t want to spare a person to actually speak to us. There is something about the clipped syllables of the voice that tells us it is a machine we are speaking with, not a human. I suppose those days are numbered as new technology that will certainly make voices indiscernible from our own becomes available to companies in the future. Already, since we now “chat” online with tech departments, we come up with situations where we are sure the non-response responses we are getting mean we are dealing with a machine, not a person. And, I’m sure that I am not the only one who has asked a techie on the phone if they are real or a computer. In fact, from their responses, I am sure I am far from the only one. We can even easily imagine legislation requiring companies to let us know when we are speaking to a human-facsimile.

Just yesterday I was sitting with my Aunt, who is either 99 or 100, depending on who you ask, while she anxiously handled the tiny flip top cell phone my brother had given her. She had made it clear she did not want it but I could tell she was more interested than she let on. I had him call me while I sat there and showed her how to open it and put it to her ear so she could talk. Today he will program it so she can push just one button and speak to him. None of this is really any different than her use at home of what I still call a “space” phone, which only means, wireless.

New technology, as we can see, is just harder to adjust to the older you are, at least for most people. Yes, some older people gravitate towards it and enjoy it, but many older (and not so much older) people I know are resistant to it, and the older they are, the more resistant. Though I know people in their 80s who have taken to the personal computer, I also know some who have never used one and vow never to do so. Their emotions range from uninterested to angry about it.

I am only in my 50s, but have this same resistance myself, at least to a degree. Sometimes others exaggerate my resistance as they are irritated by my reluctance to play along and just go with whatever technology they want to use. My older brother, who has always loved each new gadget and was the first person I knew to have a beeper and then a cell phone, calls me a luddite. The word comes from a possibly fictional person named Ned Ludd, who reputedly smashed a couple of knitting frames (I join you in not knowing or caring what that is) back in England at the time of our revolution. Some decades later his name was evoked by a group protesting new innovations. If he ever existed, it is not clear he ever did what they claim he did, and General or King Ludd was certainly draped with semi-religious or legendary qualities he never had.

But, I am far from a luddite. Thoreau wrote that we would be foolish not to use the technology available to us and that seems right to me. But, I do move slowly into the realm and there is a method to my madness. As I have said to my evalovin’ sweetheart of almost 23 years, my cell phone is my slave; I am not its. I would extend that to most new technology. I'll get around to it when I do and use it as much as I like and not more.

We are not only foolish to avoid new technology, but really cannot avoid it very long, as it drives out old technology. If we want to function and compete in the world, there is little choice. Sure, you can refuse to listen to music on an ipod, but, while others are almost instantly downloading their music (and apparently your music as they walk by), you will be waiting for your trip to some city where you can peruse dusty records or cds in bins in the one store in your area where they are still sold. A doctor recently gave me a tape set he had with a history lecture on it. I politely took it, but I neither own a tape machine nor have I seen one in many years.  I suppose that many children today will not know what a record is, just like my own daughter and her friends were surprised when I told them that when I was growing up, we did not have personal computers (actually, the first ones became commercially available when I was in my early 20s.) One of her friends, not surprisingly, asked me, “But, what did you do?” We played at soldiers, young girl, wrestled and ran around the block a lot, was pretty much my answer.

I am more resistant to the new technology than I think all of my friends up to the age of about 75. Some think that I am deliberately being difficult, but I’m really not. If a technology is more useful than the old, reasonably priced, adds to rather than subtracts from my life and does not cause some kind of personal, social or cultural problem for me, I do it like everyone else. As I said, even when I don’t want to, I often have no choice. You can’t communicate with some companies by telephone anymore, and many charge more if you do. I can bank cheaper now doing almost everything electronically at my computer or a terminal. 90+ percent of research is now done online. I was told by a law school employee last year that they have started to phase out buying many books (hopefully, she will be retired when they, consequently, will phase her out). sells more digital books than they do print ones.

I have never had any doubt when faced with a new technology, that I will eventually use it like everyone else. I just take my time and don’t see the need to do things just because they are available if I really don’t like them.

I’ve written here before about the curious effect a certain conversation I’ve had with others involving future technology has had on them. That is, when I discuss "it" with people, I find that within weeks they repeat it back to me as if someone else had discussed it with them or they saw it on some television documentary (don’t even bother to comment that you’ve seen it on tv yourself unless you can tell me the name and date of the show). Now, of course, I’m not the only one thinks about future technology (relax - I’ll get to what “it” is in a bit), but, I do talk about this one thing a lot and don’t think it is a coincidence that when I do, they are sure that some anonymous person or documentary they can’t quite remember has also has raised it – when not a single person has ever raised the subject to me nor have I ever seen a single show on it (although there have been many sci-fi stories about it and I’m sure there must be some non-fictional writing on it). I’m amazed that I’m unable to find a single website or blog on this idea, though it is patently obvious it is going to happen soon enough, and EVERYTHING is on the internet. And not that I created or invented anything. All I’ve done is wondered out loud about "it." But, I’ve also noticed that when people repeat it to me, they evoke a fascination with the idea that they did not have when we first discussed it. I guess it needed to percolate or that things become more interesting to us when we feel that we’ve raised it ourselves.

The “it” is simply the certainty that in a generation or so, the technology enabling us to contact the internet, which we old folks had to raise with the help of discs or cds, and now go to effortlessly on machines, some of which can be held in our hands, will be placed directly in people’s heads so that they can communicate with it without using their hands. I suppose they will experiment with adults first, but eventually it will be “grown” in the nervous systems of children who will cure their own diseases and teach themselves anything they want. You could brainstorm and think about what this might bring about but you will fail in reaching all the possible applications, because it is limitless.

I note, however, that most people my age or older, even those who loooovvvveee new technology, often add when discussing it that second time, also repeat my own ultimate conclusion from when we first discussed it. "I hope I am dead when some 4 year old kid can correct me about when Abraham Lincoln was born" or the like. We old folks do not want to see such an enormous change in our lives and that will be enormous.

Because I’ve written about it before, I won’t go into details about how this technology is already here, except to say in short, it involves four things – mental manipulation of computers, computer miniaturization, bio-grafting and shielding our brains from the ill effects of electro-magnetic radiation (if it even needs it). The first three are already being done to some degree. They’ve developed technology for paraplegics who can then mentally operate computers, chips which are an atom thick (this is mind boggling, I know) and we have long been grafting machines to our body. I am not versed on the last issue, but it would be ridiculous to believe we could not shield our brains from em radiation and I’m not sure at all there is a real threat to our brains from the use of devices using it. Some of the initial scare was admittedly fraudulent and I am not aware of any real proof yet. But, maybe.

None of this is something we need to worry about now or in the very near future. When it happens, it will happen very fast though.

My own travails with technology is not very exciting. But, my take it or leave it attitude (or sometimes rejection) does seem to piss people off. I record the following examples for some future anthropologist who stumbles on my blog (with just the power of his mind, of course.)

Cell phones. As best as I can recall, my brother had a cell phone in the early 1990s. They’ve actually been commercially available in some places since the 70s, but no one I knew had one.  I distinctly remember when we were taking a hike, and he tried to cross a deep stream, I had to “a-hem,” him and remind him he had one in his pocket (along with several other devices).

They worked terribly and I could not imagine why anyone would want one. Now, I have, like you know doubt, suffered the feeling of being trapped and helpless when we realize that we’ve left our cell phone home. They still don’t work great, at least compared to land lines. They frequently drop calls, especially when people are driving in certain areas, can be staticky at times and, of course, need a power source.

I continue to use a very basic one. Last year, I, very late, added texting to my repertoire. I was speaking to a friend who wanted me to text him a telephone number. His kids reacted with laughter when I said I didn’t know how to make numbers instead of letters type out. Now, I text as often as I write and I’m aware that some younger people rarely talk at all, just text. A friend of mine was shocked a few years ago when his teenager, whose friend had died, spent hours on the phone texting back and forth with her friends about it with no desire by any of them to pick up the phone and talk.

I got my first cell in the 90s, probably a few years after my brother. The cause was being broken down in my car after fleeing the rare Long Island tornado while at the beach. I decided to get one for “emergencies.” I think you know where that leads. I hated it so much that before the contract ran out I cancelled it, preferring to pay a negotiated penalty to using it anymore. But, very soon, when I took my next job, I realized that they were taking out most of the pay phones and I really had no choice if I wanted any convenience. So, I got another one and have never been without it. It is now my only phone. I don’t just tolerate it, I love it. It enables me to kill time while driving, and dangerous as talking while driving may be, it is supposedly safer than reading, which is my other option (and the one that not surprisingly terrifies people, though I truly believe the rare times I do it, I am more safe than at any other time – that will not go over well in a trial, I’m sure.) The service is unreal now. I have literally been on mountain tops in national parks and used one, though that is still spotty.

I have resisted the smart phone, which almost everyone else I know has. My own phone is internet friendly, but I’ve never used that function and don’t want emails when I am away from home. Of course, I know that I am going to have to do it and soon. The availability of instant communication always drives the need for it dramatically. Now, you can’t just wait to talk to someone for work purposes. You are at an incredible disadvantage professionally if you can’t talk back and forth. It may just be a matter of months for me.

I’m sure I will hate it at first. I am perplexed and saddened by the great love people have for these phones. They do everything on them including take better pictures than I could with my last film camera (Rest in Peace, buddy), ask it verbally for directions, etc. But, of course, I will become as addicted to it as the rest of people that I know.

And, of course, with cell phones, there has been a cultural shock. The rudeness which people exhibit with their phones (and I know I have been occasionally guilty of), talking too loudly, ignoring the people they are with for the people they can speak to remotely and so on is troubling for a lot of people. In time, it will probably iron itself out when there are no generations that don’t see them as having always existed. I guess I will miss that when it happens.

Televisions: This one I am a little different than most people I know personally. They all have great big plasma tv's.  I just don’t like them and don’t want one. Yes, they are big and beautiful, but they are too clear. I really don’t want to see make up on actors, or their warts and veins. It’s gross to me. I don’t enjoy football games any more than when watching them than on my little portable tv. Frankly, I don’t think, for the most part, I would care if I had a black and white portable for most everything I watch, though I admit, one thing plasma is much better for are nature shows, which, left to myself, I really never watch. .

At home in Virginia I watched 95+% of my television on a 12 inch screen. It was all I needed. When offered bigger tv’s by people throwing them out I initially turned them down. But, the complaints from my daughter and friends that when they were there they had to watch it caused me to accept a couple of bigger (non-plasma) sets. The first one I put in the back room and only guests watched it. The second one though, I was forced by my insignificant other and daughter to accept and put in the living room. It also was not plasma, but 3 times larger and much more clear and colorful than my own sweet portable. I can’t imagine what advantage people think they have in watching it. I don’t see it adding to my enjoyment at all. When I moved, I left both large tv’s to my landlord. I really don’t want them (nor does anyone else, as they are not plasma.)

This is not new for me. Back in the 1970s I went to the home of family friends who had a new color television that would nowadays be considered laughable. But, even then I thought why would anyone want a television where you could see Archie Bunker’s sweat glands?

I’m not going to win this battle. No one else I know wants anything but the largest television they can find and with the most modern technology possible. One couple I know now has a 3D television (though they are fairly broke). And, the next television I buy, I probably won’t have a choice.

Cameras: Digital technology in cameras is now, and has been for several years, better, cheaper and easier than film technology. I have no problem switching next camera I buy. But, there is something about digital cameras, which have made taking pictures so much easier for everyone, that it has on the one hand greatly multiplied the beautiful pictures we can see, but also diminished photography. I haven’t made up my mind about photoshopping and the like, but my instinct is to despise it as “cheating.” I say that knowing that I often clean up the grammar on my blog posts after I’ve published. Arguably, you could say it is the same thing. Probably is. You could also say - who cares? Probably no one.

Digital cameras have ruined the careers of some people though. This is a fact, not a fault. Last year, walking around a market I came across a photographer and some of his work. I surprised myself by blurting out, “Let me guess. The digital camera has destroyed your career.” I forget exactly how he responded, but it was on the order of  “Oh, you said it, brother.” C’est la vie.

Facebook: Sorry, folks, but I can’t understand this at all. I do have a facebook account, technically anyway, but I’m told because I have no friends that I can’t even be located on it. Just as well. If I want to go on, I use my daughter’s account maybe two or three times a year. I look at some people’s pages and can’t for the life of me understand the reason people do it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that was remotely interesting even about people I know. Perhaps the novelty is wearing off now and that is why we are seeing the stock tumbling.

Obviously, I blog. There’s a big difference to me. If people I knew were writing about stuff they’ve learned or were thinking about, I’d look at (and have read friend’s and family’s blogs.) Call my stuff stupid, boring or anything you like – it is about something. I’ve asked people why they go on facebook and this is what I’ve learned - they do it to keep in touch with people (but, don’t they anyway?) They don’t really do it (most everyone in my age group and some much younger people tell me this) and, they don’t really like it. From my age group I normally hear far more complaints than good things about it.

Yes, I know there are business reasons to use it and I once used a social network to practice a language. Again, about something.

Actually, I also technically think I still have a twitter account because a few years ago I was curious about what it was. I was mortified and angry when it immediately contacted everyone on my email accounts who also had a twitter account. I signed off forever without ever trying it. Now, understanding what it is, I can only mourn the cheapening and trivializing of what people think.

Perhaps the reason I can’t understand this stuff is the same reason I prefer dealing with people one on one or at most one couple at a time. I do go to parties, and enjoy them, but never expect to have much of a real conversation there. Facebook and twitter strike me like going to a big party where the conversations will be perfunctory and banal and it never ends.

I’m not adverse to learning. Someone explain to me what it is about. I don’t get it.

GPS: Another thing I have no interest in using. Sure, it is better than a map in every way. I get it.  Right now, it has almost dissolved the ability and courage of people in following even the easiest directions. Living in Virginia, I have to admit I was happy that gps would not get you to my house but across town in a dead end.

A friend of mine who was driving with me from my home to a distant city wanted to try it out. There was no need for it to get to the city. That’s pretty easy. But cities are complicated and very easy to get lost in if you don’t know where you are going. Still, it was difficult for us to follow the directions. “This left turn or that left turn?” we asked. They will no doubt get better and better and I imagine very soon will address us by name and coach us through each turn. "Hey, stupid, I said go left there."

Readers: Another device that is just better in every way than what they replace – in this case books, but which I have no interest in using. How could it not be better? A little tablet can hold a 1000 books (or I’m sure more) instead of one book in your hand, and is much lighter, more durable, easier to use, readable in the dark and so on. Not only that, but many older books, which is primarily what I read – are free on it. Free! Don, who occasionally comments here, gave me a Nook for Christmas. I almost never exchange a gift, even if I don’t like it, but I did this time, figuring it wouldn’t hurt his feelings (it didn’t.) Took a credit and bought books from Barnes & Noble, which is what I really wanted.

I know, I’m a luddite. I’ve heard it before.


  1. We are of the same generation,so I agree almost 100 percent. Suspect opinions on this topic vary by age group and since only us old coots read your blog, there will not be much dissent. I do use an e-reader though, and I think you gave up on it too soon (Contempt prior to investigation). It also has not diminished my love or use of old, real books. Merely made my library portable. I carry a few hundred books with me just about where ever I go. Plus web access and email (the email is mostly for work, a concept that I know is foreign to you). Luv it. Also appreciate the big screen more than you but only because my vision is lousy and you are blessed with good eyes even in old age. Damn you. Totally unrelated to anything: read Bernie Cornwall's viking series. lots of fighting and pillaging. Ugg like. Frodo will like.

  2. My eyes are still pretty good, though fading a bit too. Got lucky on that one, because my ears are really bad.

    Thanks for not noticing how badly written that was. I was too tired to proof last night and just did it (so whoever reads it now won't notice). That new technology is amazing.


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About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .