Resistance Is Futile: Coping with the Inevitable Future
Recently, Mike Johnston (of The Online Photographer) wrote a post about doing things they way he wanted, which in most cases was the way he’d always done them. Despite having adopted digital photography, Mike seems reluctant to adapt to other changes in the modern world. An interesting dichotomy: he’ll shoot digital photos but does not want a cell phone. He got me thinking.
When I bought a car a few months back, I went with a manual transmission drive (which is rare in the US). This wasn’t because it was what I was used to having learnt to drive in Europe, but because I find manual transmission gives me more control over the behaviour and handling of the car. This is much the same reason why I only embraced photography fully when digital gave me total control over every step of the process. But manual cars, at least with a gear stick, are on their way out. In Europe, more and more cars are appearing with automatic transmission that also allows for “quick-shift” gear changing (please excuse my lack of a technical term for this). While I still prefer having a clutch and gear stick, I know their days are counted and am expecting cars with gear shifting through paddles on the steering wheel, just like current Formula 1 cars. I’ll miss the clutch, and my left foot will grow bored, but I must embrace the change.
Much in Life is like this. We live too long not to have great technological changes happen during our lifetimes. My father was born in a small farming village in Spain, and he still remembers seeing his first car as a young child. Now he drives a car that can tell him how to get from one point of Spain to another with an error of only 10 meters. But my father doesn’t have a cell phone, nor does he know how to use a computer. Another dichotomy.
Reading Mike’s essay I was immediately reminded of an old article by the late, great Douglas Adams, mostly famous for being the creator of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (which was a book long before it became a film, kids, and a radio show before it ever hit the written page). In his short essay How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet (originally published in the News Review section of The Sunday Times on August 29th 1999), Adams describes how we view technology in the following way:
- everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;
- anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;
- anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.
While funny, it’s probably mostly true. Although I might like to add another entry:
- Anything that gets invented after you’re fifty is so close to magic as to be impossible to ever fathom, and thus you just “leave it to the youngsters” and never worry about trying to use it.
I promised myself back in 2000 (when I first read Adams’s article) that I would not fall into categories 3 or 4. Thus, I try to keep up to date with technological and social advances, although I can already, in my early thirties, feel myself lagging behind my pledge. For example, what the hell is Twitter and why do I need to make like a bird? Do I really need a Facebook account?
“You cannot afford to be obsolete if you expect to survive, let alone thrive.”
I shouldn’t be asking myself these questions, instead I should be embracing these services wholeheartedly, all the while hoping they’re nothing but a fad so I can turn around and say “I told you so!”. The thing is, if they turn out not to be a fad (like the internet, cell phone, colour TV, electricity and the wheel proved not to be), I better be up to date and know how to use them. Because herein lies the problem of not adopting emerging trends: the opposite of up to date is obsolete. Do you want to be obsolete? In today’s world of unstable markets, growing population, developing economies and ever-shrinking profit margins, you cannot afford to be obsolete if you expect to survive, let alone thrive.
The reason my father never learned how to use a computer is that he believed he didn’t need to. He felt his time for learning new technologies had passed and that he could make it to the finish line without ever needing them. He is now retired, in his mid-70’s, and he might have been right, but that was a large gamble he took. But whatever his personal agenda was, he did realise the importance of emerging technologies and continuously encouraged me and my sister to learn about them. Thanks to his motivation and approval I am a young adult who feels confident in this ever-increasing technological world. And thanks to Douglas Adams I hope to have a fighting chance of reaching 50 and still being up to date with the latest gizmos. However, I do wonder if I can be like Mike and successfully cherry-pick the new technologies I embrace.
I also ask myself, what on earth are the kids of today listening to? They call that music!?