When I was a kid impressive technology came in the form of calculators, automatic dishwashers, push-button phones and colour TVs. Music either came to me over the radio or was released from vinyl discs by a needle (sometimes weighted with a quarter so it wouldn’t skip and scratch the records). 8-tracks were replaced with cassettes, but downloading was a concept yet to be conceived. Polaroid cameras were amazing. If you wanted to watch a movie you went to the theatre or waited for the edited version to play on the late show. (It took me three years of babysitting to get all the way through The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston!)
VCRs (remember the battle between VHS and Beta?), satellite TV and microwave ovens were the big advancements in the 80s. Then came fax and digital telephone answering machines. The notion of owning a home computer was beginning to bud, and when one landed in my living room in 1990, with its 4-colour monitor that took up half the desk and dot-matrix printer, I thought that I was living in a futuristic world and that not much more could develop. The idea that one day I would carry a computer in my pocket was the stuff of science fiction and, not being much of a sci-fi buff, didn’t dominate my thoughts in any way. But it was the beginning of the end for my penmanship.
When the Internet (good old dial-up!) finally became available in my area, I thought I had died and gone to technology heaven. E-mail, on-line shopping, time-wasting games – hoo-boy! Connectivity was the catch phrase of the day. Literally the whole world lay at my fingertips, only a mouse click away.
Today, I have a laptop that I can carry with me anywhere. I have a Blackberry (rather than a phone!) and my most common form of communication is now called texting. I have an e-book reader that allows me to access books wirelessly whenever the mood moves me and anywhere I happen to be. There are no dials on my television and no knobs on my cook top. I can watch my favourite shows on my laptop any time I choose – no need for TV guides these days. I can pop a tiny plastic disc into my blue-ray player and feel like I’m part of the action. I can take photos with my phone and share them with the world instantly. Skype and Google are my favourite verbs. (Well there are a couple of others, but this is a family blog!)
I wouldn’t call myself a technophile. I use all this stuff, but I rely heavily on geeks (didn’t that used to be a derogatory term?) to keep things working smoothly and heaven help me when it isn’t. I sometimes wonder what life would be like if all this technology was suddenly to disappear. And it makes me shudder!
Last night my meditation was to imagine life without the Internet – no wi-fi, no connectivity. Was I happier without all these gadgets in my life? Was life really simpler? Was it better? Was it worse?
In the end, I came to the conclusion that it was just different back then. Could I survive without a cell phone and the Internet? Of course I could. Do I want to? No!
It would not please me to have to write cheques, buy stamps and envelopes and schlep them to the post office to mail off my bill payments. I’d rather open my e-bills and manipulate the digits that represent my money on the computer screen using my handy-dandy numeric keyboard. That little piece of plastic with the magnetic strip that magically does the same thing when I buy stuff is way easier than arguing with a cashier over wrong change. And to manually have to balance my cheque book again? I’ve agonized over a missing 32 cents one or two times too many in my lifetime.
Today, I thought of all the ways in which I can connect and communicate with various people in my life: land line, cell phone (calling, texting, voice mail), Skype (calling, video calls, chat, voice mail and it’s hands-free so I can continue knitting), Facebook, e-mail. Of these, I use the land line the least. In fact I no longer have a land line at my house. I have a Blackberry from which I can make calls, text and send and receive e-mail. I don’t see the need for a land line and I don’t miss the toll-free calls that used to plague my Sunday mornings and daily meal times even though I went to a lot of trouble to get on the no-call and opt-out lists. I use my laptop to Skype people when a long distance call is required. Sometimes they don’t answer, believing that the weird number on their call displays is from one of those toll-free callers, but that’s not my problem. I make arrangements for coffee and walks and movie nights and other in-person visits either via text or Facebook. It works for me.
My adult life is definitely different than my youth was. Gadgets are, for the most part, blessings, though at times they do make for a fair bit of anxiety and inconvenience. I think that may be built in so that I don’t stop appreciating them. And I do appreciate them.
Well, it’s time to post this blog entry and… What’s that sound? A gong? Someone’s texting me…
Hmmmm…. Looks like I have a date for tea tomorrow night with a friend. Imagine that!