I’m known outwardly as a person who uses and embraces technology and innovation, in fact there are a handful of electronic devices I will never leave home without (cell phone, digital camera, e-reader or netbook, etc.)
Lately I have been thinking about the ways things used to be, long before life began to transition into the digital era. What has happened to life as I once knew it to be? And perhaps more importantly, has technology improved our lives, or has there been a negative effect because of it?
When I was a child, nothing was digital with the exception of digital wrist watches or calculators, both of which were considered specialty items and were quite expensive at the time. During the pre-digital era, everything was manual or mechanical, and any function of an object or household appliance required some sort of physical movement or interaction. 99% of everything was mechanical, which meant basically that it could be repaired or adjusted with little effort, expense, or know-how. Things were designed and manufactured to be solid, long-lasting, and most importantly, to be repairable at home by anybody.
As time went by, I noticed more and more things in my life making their transition into the digital era. In some ways transition from analog to digital made life easier, more efficient, or more precise. But in many ways, the digital wave went too far. Recently I have begun to miss the old-fashioned things that I used to take for granted, that have been replaced by their electronic counterparts. Not long ago, most if not all communication arrived in printed paper form in the mail. Because it would cost money to send somebody a letter, there was no benefit or gain to send nonsense or tiny micro-communications to somebody. So in a sense, written paper-based letters were costly, slow to arrive, and sent so infrequently that one was inclined to put thought and time behind each one. E-Mail, texting, and tweeting has conditioned us into writing short communications to one another which lack originality, intellect, and true expression. In many ways, our desire for short, abbreviated communication has resulted in a generation of people now unable to communicate in written form with any sort of noticeable authority or responsibility. I miss the days when a hand-written letter took time to write, time to send, and time to receive a response. The instant electronic forms of modern communication only serve to cause us to feel impatient as we wait for those few things in life that still take time, and completely isolated from those around us when, for whatever reason, communication ceases for any length of time, no matter how short.
As time goes on, more and more common things make their sudden and inevitable transition into the digital era, and the more things change, the more I wish for some things to stay the same. I never understood why my parents always wished for some things to stay the way they are, or were. It’s only human nature to resist change, and yet life itself is changing faster now than ever before in human history.
I look to the children of today and wonder what their world will be like once their lives will truly be completely digital; technology and the digital wave will have truly gone too far once, as a society, we will have no concept of what a bound book is, or how to look-up words in a printed dictionary. I question the quality of education todays students receive when they immediately turn to an Internet search engine whenever they are faced with a simple problem or situation which in and of itself requires basic problem-solving skills. Skills that used to be second-nature back when I was in grade school.
As it turns out, I am far from being alone in my ‘retro thinking’. There exists now a movement to turn back time and technology to do things the exact ways in which they used to be done. Although they are still a vast minority, there are people who find comfort and immense enjoyment playing video games on obsolete systems, taking photographs using fully manual-focus cameras loaded with film, and even writers (like me) who write and compose using pen and paper. While digital versions of things have their advantages (such as lower cost, availability, ease of use, etc.), there are still many among us who, for an infinite number of reasons, still prefer to do things in an analog (non-digital) fashion.
It saddens and scares me to think that perhaps during my lifetime, and almost certainly during the lifetime of the children of my generation, will have little to no experience with anything other than things which have been replaced with digital technology. Even if paper notebooks are still available for purchase in the distant future, chances are, their use will be too cost-prohibitive to be worth the financial investment.
Perhaps my parents were right when they said that technology would one day take over the world, and despite the illusion of progress, efficiency, speed, and convenience, it would ultimately serve to make people dumber, and make our lives more complicated and difficult.
What I miss most are the days of my youth where people would gather in small groups, sometimes over coffee and discuss things in detail for hours at a time. Dave Matthews was once quoted as saying, “progress takes away what forever took to find.”
He was right.