Growing wildly

Drew and Matt explore a computer encyclopedia at Science World, Vancouver, BC, 1993

Drew and Matt explore a computer encyclopedia at Science World, Vancouver, BC, 1993

“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:

Exquisitely dependent

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

2 Comments

  1. Judy from PA

    Loved the computer-ills haiku! I still remember the first haiku I ever read, back when I was a teenager. “Leaf returning to branch? No, butterfly.” So simple, so lovely.

    Regarding computer power, a family member donated an older cellphone to us and we activated it a couple of days ago. Now we’ve officially entered the 21st century with texting, pings and constant awareness of everything just a finger touch away. Our old $4.95 flip phone seemed fine for the past 8 years but the world has moved on, or so the grandchildren tell us.

    Well, we still physically unplug our landline every afternoon when we take a nap (we call it “going Amish”). That way the telemarketers can’t disturb us. I suspect we won’t have the cellphone turned on a lot of the time either. Serenity and calmness are precious and have to be gently guarded these days.

    • Judy, so true. I think “going Amish” should be a requirement of daily life! Academic authors who write on technology, such as Sherry Turkle and Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, have really opened my eye to the wisdom of taking sabbaticals from technology. I still resent the speed at which even sophisticated gadgets become obsolete according to their manufacturer’s carefully crafted profit-driven agendas. But it’s useless to try to function without them. Or is it? Sometimes I wonder.

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