“After growing wildly for years, the field of computing appears to be reaching its infancy.” — John Pierce
When I first read this quote, I thought, “How true!” Then I realized that what we once thought of as computers, even the notebooks and netbooks, are fast becoming obsolete themselves. But the term “computing” can be broadly defined to include all digital technology, in which case, Pierce is frightfully accurate.
When I started library school in 1994, the internet was still primarily text-based; the World Wide Web existed, but was accessible primarily through a text browser called Lynx. The first graphical user interface (GUI), Mosaic, was released in 1993, and was soon eclipsed by Netscape, the ancestor of today’s Firefox, though neither were widely used by today’s standards. In those days, it might take a full hour to download a single color image. Remote access was limited to dial-up speeds.
When our professors told us that it was only a few years before full color graphics in audio and video formats would be delivered instantly, and used by the majority of people worldwide, it sounded like a space-age dream to me. They predicted, with surprising accuracy, many of the advances and issues we are dealing with now, including what all this digital technology would do to our relationships with each other and the world, for better and worse.
I’m probably not alone in thinking that computers can provoke levels of frustration that were unknown before the advent of all these advances that supposedly make life easier. Still, having been a teller who kept handwritten credits and debits, and an airline ticket agent who remembers the old red-carbon tickets and color coded bag tags, I remember how quickly the early computers introduced in those fields became so essential as to cause panic when they went down. For all the irritating malfunctions and impenetrable mysteries of technology, I love the innovations microchips have made possible.
Pierce’s quote rings true because digital technology seems perennially young, outgrowing itself far more quickly than we can. Keeping up with it to any degree, even as partially and selectively as I do (I STILL don’t have a smart phone) demands a mental flexibility and focus that I hope will ameliorate, to some degree, the typical cognitive risks associated with aging. No matter your age, it will be a challenge to keep up with the changes that are certain to continue.
What do you love best about the digital age? What do you find most frustrating? For a little comic relief, you might enjoy reading these submissions to the Haiku Error Messages Contest. Who says technology and poetry don’t mix?
One year ago today: