I know there are fellow baby boomers who embraced each new technological marvel as it came along: the first primitive computers, the first BlackBerry phones, the first digital cameras. But I’ve resisted technology every step of the way.
When the newspaper I worked for in the 1980s started replacing our manual typewriters with computers, the management decided the best way to get its employees comfortable with this new technology was to teach us in the comfort of our own homes. I felt pretty confident after listening to the tech guy go through the whole system with me, but after he left I couldn’t figure out how to start the computer on my own. I was so frustrated that my impulse was to throw the computer through the front window.
I eventually got comfortable with computers—I had no choice—and even started to appreciate that they made writing and editing easier; instead of using white-out and pasting (with glue) strips of paper over mistakes, I could do that with a few keystrokes.
When cell phones came along, I resisted as long as I could, although the original flip phones were simple enough. But smart phones were a whole new ballgame. The first time I went into the Verizon store, I didn’t know what an Android was, only that it wasn’t an Apple. Even today, years after getting my first one, I use a small fraction of its apps. I don’t watch videos or play games. However, like the rest of the world, I can’t imagine life without my cell phone, especially as I get older and rely on Google Maps to tell me which road to take.
But texting flummoxed me for a long time. Why would you want to send a text when you could just call someone? I resisted as long as I could, until I realized that the only way to communicate with certain people in my life—such as nieces and nephews—was by texting.
By then it was starting to dawn on me that we were in a new era: that speed was more important than any genuine communication with people and that most people, especially younger generations, preferred short and fast. Even swifter and easier are photos, videos and podcasts, which are replacing the written word. As someone who loves to write and read, I’m fast becoming a relic.
Twitter should have been my first clue that the world was leaving me quickly behind. When I first read, in a long New Yorker piece many years ago, about this new form of social media, my initial thought was: this won’t last long. Who wants to write in 140-word bursts? Millions of people, it turns out, including our former president.
Looking back, I can see clearly my whole strategy of dealing with new technology. When it’s not necessary for a productive life, like my computer or cell phone, my approach has been, first, to make a half-hearted attempt to understand it and, when that doesn’t work, hope it disappears. That didn’t work so well with Twitter. And it’s not working with cryptocurrency.
I’ve read dozens of articles about it, but it makes no sense to me. How can money exist only on the Internet? Surely it needs to be backed up by something, like our dollars are backed by the Federal Reserve.
It’s the same problem I had with cell phones. How can a photo I take on my phone be sent, almost instantaneously, to someone a thousand miles away? How can I talk to someone on the other side of the world without being connected through a physical line?
I’ve come to accept that we can send electronic signals via radio waves, but it’s kind of like believing in flying saucers. When television first appeared, we marveled that a set of antenna, better known as rabbit ears, could bring Walter Cronkite, Ed Sullivan and the Mickey Mouse Club into our homes.
And now we’ve arrived at a place where we can invest in invisible money through the Internet. I read recently that cryptocurrency is being used in the high-end art market, and two weeks ago El Salvador became the first country in the world to adopt bitcoin as legal tender. Which country will fall next?
It hasn’t been that long since I figured out that I could pay bills electronically, which still seems like a miracle to someone who spent most of her life writing checks, inserting them in envelopes, affixing stamps and dropping them in a mailbox. Now I just push a button on my computer.
The younger generation has grown up being comfortable with the idea that things are not concrete; that a disembodied voice on your phone can answer all (or most) of your questions. But it still seems like magic to me.