Saturday, April 14, 2012

Boomer Technology Addiction

Decades ago when I smoked, I reached for a cigarette first thing in the morning or when I finished a meal. Today I reach for my iPhone. There is something decidedly similar about the compulsion.

I am sure there must be scientific studies and brain scans that show how areas of the brain light up when one ingests e-mail or tweets. As a 65 year old, running a virtual business, I am bombarded with an array of information whenever I am “connected” and that is most of the time.
But what I wonder is – how did I get to the point where I can move from laptop, to tablet to smart phone, effortlessly and without even thinking about it? What were the steps in the progression that led me here?

In the few short years I lived before television, I recall listening to the radio with my family. Nobody messed frenetically with the dial. We listened and then the adults turned it off. The situation was pretty much the same for the television.

As teenagers and college students, however, my generation took the car radio and turned it into a random juke box. We programmed in the rock stations on the push buttons and jumped from button to button looking for the songs we liked. And, of course, we became masters at twisting the dials on our transistor radios; we wore tiny earphones plugged into our handheld radios and tuned out the adults around us. My generation, at least the female component, loved talking on the telephone.

Shortly after we got married in 1969, we got our first remote controlled TV. Of course, it did have a wire, but it was possible to change channels from the sofa. Of course, channel surfing among three stations was not such a big deal, but I remember channel surfing before it had a name.

My generation, the leading-edge baby boomers, was simply not that intimidated by technology and we accepted change as inevitable and natural -- and most of us still do! We are the generation whose parents played 78 rpm records, while we played 45s and graduated to 33 1/3s in high school. Then we got into reel to reel audio tapes in various sizes; 8 track cassettes, audio cassettes, and CDs. Now I play music on my iPhone, set on shuffle, through the car radio. It reminds me of the old days of pushing buttons to change the song.

I went from a manual typewriter, to an electric typewriter, to a Selectric, to a word processor, to an Epson computer with a green screen, to a Morrow portable computer the size of a sewing machine with an orange seven inch screen, to a Atari ST, to a PC with Windows 3.1, to various iterations of Windows on various desk top and laptop machines, and yes, I also have a Mac. And, of course, I have the iPad.

My first car phone came in a bag the size of a shoebox and I thought it was very cool. Since then I have had just about any configuration of phone you can imagine – from the Nokia basic to the flip-phone to the Palm Treo to the iPhone finally.

But along the way, there were other devices that were must haves. I remember my Atari Portfolio fondly because it allowed me to do wonderful things without the bulky computer. I remember my pager through Skytel and years later, the little netbook.

At this point, there has been convergence – sort of! But it still takes me three devices to do everything I want to do. The laptop is still best for doing serious work. The iPad is super for doing work on the run or taking notes in a meeting, but it isn’t a phone. But the laptop is a modern version of the typewriter, and the iPhone took the place of the radio, home phone and record player.

What I do know is that the thing I spend the most time doing each day – e-mail – will reach me on all three devices. At some level I hate e-mail. It is incessant, filled with garbage, and intrusive. On the other hand, it keeps me connected with others; it is the way I move projects forward and communicate.

We Boomers grew up with technology and it has shaped us to value connectedness. What is really so addictive about e-mail may just be is the shot of connectedness that come with each email. The message says “you are alive and people want to tell you things.” It sure beats the alternative of sitting in my recliner channel surfing among the reruns.

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