Thursday, April 21, 2011

Visionary Overtaken By Events

Some people tell me I am a visionary, as if it were a good thing. I guess in some ways it is good to have an idea of what the future might hold. On the other hand, the real world is today, not 30 years from now. And it is the real world that we live in, not the world of the future.

Most of my adult life I have been living about 30 years ahead of reality. I could give you a long list of things I wanted to do 30 years too soon. Here are a few related to my former profession as an educational media specialist. I was teaching information skills when the rest of my educational media colleagues were focusing on library skills and the Dewey Decimal system. Back when portable computers were the size of carry-on bags, I thought each kid should be issued one in 8th grade. Not having the appropriate software, I catalogued a library collection using a mailing list program simply by changing the field names. I can’t help it – I have to do things like that, despite the reaction of others – which is generally “that is not how these things are done.” Now I am hearing, "I remember when you wanted to do this30 years ago."

As I approach age 65, I am not sure what I might gain by living in the reality of 30 years from now. By then I probably will be gone. Besides, I can’t stay 30 years ahead any more. I have some sense of where it is all headed, but frankly the changes are coming so fast it takes my breath away. So I am what you might call a visionary who has been overtaken by events.

When I was in graduate school in the late 60s studying educational media, we knew we were on the brink of the information age. We had a professor on the faculty whose specialty was cybernetics and we worshipped Marshall McLuhan, of “The Medium is the Message” fame. We put slide/tape shows together using Carousel projectors, reel to reel recorders, and using cumbersome and expensive dissolve units. PowerPoint was decades away, but we knew we wanted it! If I had only had PowerPoint in 1969!

In about 1970 I declared that what the world needed was a typewriter where the keys were silent and you viewed your work on a TV screen. You could make corrections on the screen, and when you had it just the way you wanted it, you could press a button and it would come out the bottom of the machine just like a copy machine. Admittedly I got the placement of the printer wrong, but overall not bad!

Back then, we had cumbersome ways of doing most everything, but we did get stuff done and we used various media. But everything was slow and usually painful. I wished for a camera that didn’t use film and was quick – just like the old Polaroids, but with no chemicals. I wanted a phone that I could carry around with me and a device where I could read books a portable screen. I wanted my transistor radio to play tapes. I wanted a copy machine that didn’t cost a fortune and fill a small room. I wanted an adding machine that didn’t make that horrendous number cruncher noise.

Now here we are, living and breathing in the information age. All of my equipment fantasies are being fulfilled. Talk about pent-up demand! I find myself on the cusp of senior citizen status downloading apps for everything imaginable. Of course, the big problem is I keep misplacing my phone. It gets lost in my purse, in my car or on my desk. Fortunately we still cling to our landline phone, which sits on my desk and can always be found. It comes in very handy for finding the cell phone, but mostly it used for receiving annoying robo calls.

Then there is the whole social media thing. Of course, being a visionary and all, I must use social media. So I have my Linked In, Facebook and Twitter accounts – all with waiting blanks for me to fill in with something profound or at least what I had for breakfast. More and more I am getting friend requests from people I never heard of. I have to admit when someone and I have 27 mutual friends, I go ahead and connect, as clearly it is just some twist of fate that we have never met. The result of course, it is that I can read daily what hundreds of people, some of who I don’t even know, ate for breakfast or thought was funny or feel passionately about.

In my age group, it is not too hard to a techie. Basically, we emerging seniors (I just dreamed up that term- - I rather like it) fall into two groups – those who use technology and those who don’t. If you have a laptop computer, an iPhone, a scanner, a flat screen TV, a digital camera and a Kindle you definitely qualify for techie-hood -- provided you know how to use the stuff without assistance from grandchildren!

My big new thing now, as a publisher, is online magazines that resemble print magazines – you can flip the pages so it simulates reading a magazine. What is really cool, however, is that you can add audio and video clips and make it come to life. In the last 40+ years I have had three overlapping areers -- educational media specialist, publisher and association manager. Wow! Now I have a way to integrate them. I can publish magazines for my nonprofit clients and those magazines can have audio and video components -- talk about convergence!

Back in 1989 I wanted to start a small publishing company. I thought about various names that included the word “publishers.” But when all was said and done, I opted for Bay Media. These days many publishers are putting the word “media.” This was actually my second try at a “media” company – the first was Custom Media Services in about 1974. It was catch-all for whatever it was I wanted to do.

I am hereby confessing that I totally missed the boat with Skype. How could I miss using something so totally amazing and inexpensive for so long? I guess I just figured I had a so many phone options that I didn’t need any more. What with the landline, the cell phone, a bunch of VoIP lines for the business, I did not feel any shortage of phone service. In foreign countries we buy a cheap SIM card and are on our way. But I wasn’t thinking video phone - well, the thought actually did enter my mind, but then they would all see my in my bathrob. Duh! Here I am with a virtual office and some of the people have never met. OK, I am now am all set with Skype and ready to roll with video conferencing for up to 10 people. Of course tne downside is I hadve to get dressed before sitting down at the computer for a Skype call.

I am managing to keep up well enough I guess, despite my slowness to embrace Skype. I am cool with cloud computing and I lust for an iPhone 4 and an iPad, despite my unembarrassed fondness for Windows. In our family -- consisting my husband, my son, his wife and our two grandchildren, I am the only PC person. They are all “Mac” people. That's OK -- it makes me have to me more self-sufficient.

I realize that soon the day will come when I fall behind due to the brain fog of old age. I dread that day, because that will be when the game will be starting to come to an end. Meanwhile, I am opting for keeping up with the technology instead of using bridge or crossword puzzles to keep my brain sharp. I never really liked playing cards or crossword puzzles, so why should I change now that I am signed up for Medicare and the big 65th birthday is only weeks away. I may not be so visionary any more, but the world has finally caught up to my vision and I can have the fun of living in it. I just have to find the money to buy all the toys.