The Human Side of Technology

Just before Christmas, my siblings, my Dad and I finished work on a sixth month project—selling the family home so that Dad could move to an independent living cottage. We packed, sorted and distributed over a hundred years’ worth of history. We made sure to keep some things in the family like a spinning wheel, a pedal-operated sewing machine, a butter churn and a grandfather clock. We didn’t keep them because they were worth a lot of money. We kept them because they had stories to tell. They were valuable.

During the time that I lived in that home, we progressed from three channels to the seemingly endless choices of cable TV. From VCRs to DVD players. From boom boxes to Walkmans to CD players. Typewriters (yes, I took TYPING!) to word processors to computers. And since I’ve left that home there’s been years of updates leading to smart phones and Ipods and my dearly loved Kindle and electronic tablet. Never mind my laptop which frees me from writing in the same room with the flat screen TV with hundreds of selections and the Xbox with mind (and ear) defying video games. Don’t forget the competing noise from constant YouTube downloads or the sounds of my kids making movies and editing them on their own using the webcam and a few keystrokes. Ironically, all of these new developments are probably on the fast track to my own kids’ “remember when” stories.

Our lives would be very different without the constant influence of technology. The invention of the printing press revolutionized society by getting information to everyday people and the world was changed. Facebook and Twitter seem to be modern-day versions of using words to influence things large and small for people who used to be disconnected. Lots of voices are competing for attention and sometimes it seems hard to stand out. How is that going to influence our future? What’s next? How can everyone have access to the technology that can open doors of opportunity or leave others behind? Will people just keeping getting more and more extreme to stand out from the crowd of voices, or will there still be the possibility of lasting influence and measured discussion?

I think an element of fear and internal conflict is a normal response to change. I can’t help but wonder if e-books mean there will not be paper books anymore. I love the sound of the page turns, the smell of the paper, the feel of the pages slipping between my fingers and the weight of the book in my hand. But I also love the portability of my Kindle, the ease of getting books, the fact that when I had a problem with one of my hands, I could still easily hold the book and turn the page. How can I love books in both forms? I feel like a traitor to myself. Then I realize that my Kindle is already almost obsolete. Sigh.

And as much as I love technology, I hate the earphones-in-the- head teen years when I’m not sure if I’m actually being heard or am a talking head accompaniment to a music video I can’t see or hear. The constant connection through social networking sometimes leaves me feeling like I’ve missed a real life moment while I’ve been lost somewhere in cyberspace. All this interaction can be overwhelming yet lonely at the same time. What a crazy world we live in.

As we finalized the move, Dad decided to spend moving day with his older, eighty-nine year old brother to avoid the intensity of the moment. He drove his car two hours north, his not-very-loved cell phone on the seat nearby in case of emergency. It rained the entire day and the overcast sky meant that light faded earlier than he expected. On the way back, high water threatened to cover the road and his nemesis in the passenger seat became a comfort. If he had to stop, he’d be able to call for help. He’d be connected. In spite of the challenges, Dad made it home to his new digs and anxious daughters. He brought back a greater appreciation of why we wanted him to have the cell phone and a renewed sense of pride in himself. He would overcome this new challenge.

So what do two octogenarians do to pass time?

They went to brunch and played a crossword puzzle game where they competed against each other to gain points and complete the puzzle. Not too surprising. But then my dad showed my uncle how to find things on the internet like this You Tube video.

This is proof to me that the key to adjusting to technology is keeping it all in perspective. Life moves on and changing technology is part of pushing it forward, challenging the status quo and a way to mark the passage of time. It’s a measure of where we’ve been and a guide to where we are going. Embrace it or reject it, technology is here and influencing the way we gather information and communicate. And it’s been doing that for hundreds of years.

For now, I’ll just grab my cellphone and give the old guy a call. But I think I’ll do him a favor and call his landline.

 

Don’t forget to register for our Skype author giveaway with Wendy Shang, author of The Great Wall of Lucy Wu. She’s also a Mixed-Up Files member and ALA award winner so lets give her a big who-hoo! All you have to do is to leave comment on yesterday’s post, which was an interview with Wendy, so you’ll definitely want to check it out. Easy peesy.

Joanne Prushing Johnson lives upside-down and backward which is a very useful skill when life is a rollercoaster. She’s got lots of inspiration with a busy houseful packed with testosterone including a handsome hubby, four boisterous boys and a giant Golden Retriever. Joanne is represented by the Quinlan Lee of Adams Literary. Photos from www.morguefile.com

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