Stop and Smell the Old Technology

Impact of technology

Even if it manages to avoid the humiliation of ending up next to the Sony Betamax in a rubbish pile, the best any technology can hope for – no matter how revolutionary and life-altering - is to one day be taken for granted. Don’t believe me? Insert yourself into a conversation at your next dinner party and start raving about the wheel.

Despite reminding your audience that everything from Smokey and the Bandit (Parts I, II and III) to…well…civilization is inexorably tied to the wheel, you’ll witness their initial expressions of puzzled indifference quickly devolve into the eye-darting panic of people looking for an out. One-by-one each will find something very interesting beckoning them from afar and drift away, all the while formulating an ironclad strategy for avoiding any future one-on-one encounters with you. Now, if you were to open that same conversation with, say, a Smartphone troubleshooting tip then - Voila! You, my friend, would be the life of the party.

Bottom line - if a person can’t download the entire Beatles’ song catalogue to it while simultaneously watching The Walking Dead in hi-def on it, texting a friend from it and calling in dinner reservations at Chez Pompous with it, then it’s “dinosaur technology” and they don’t want to talk about it.

Ground-breaking technology, as defined these days, is little more than a never-ending stream of little gadgets that tinker around the edges of life, purporting to make our existence incrementally easier or a smidgen more productive by enabling our telephone to talk to our refrigerator, or some such nonsense - mere clever gadgets that devour our time and attention.

We eagerly serve ourselves up, because we’re fascinated – sometimes even justifiably. But time spent marvelling gape-mouthed at the new touch-screen stylus’ functionality and design robs us of time perhaps better spent appreciating profoundly powerful technological advances-of-old that have since become so elemental to our experience that they’ve faded into the background music. I’m thinking here about another dinosaur technological advance like, say – oh, I don’t know…FLIGHT!

Realize for a moment that if Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Daniel Boone and a horde of Viking warriors were on your plane ride, to a man they’d be shrieking for mommy at take-off. They’d be comforting one another in a quivering group hug at 10,000 feet - just as the 21st century crowd powers up their laptops and pulls down the window shade to prevent that pesky sunlight (reflecting off the tops of the clouds, mind you) from polluting their front-row view of a Powerpoint presentation or Star Wars. Right around 32,000 feet, just when you might be looking to kick back and get a little shut-eye, Genghis – indisputably one of the top three fiercest warriors of all time - will be wetting himself.

Go ahead; I challenge you to show Genghis Khan your wonderful new touch-screen stylus. He’ll probably stab you in the neck with it and claim your suburban half-acre for his own. Show him your iPhone, and…well…he’ll probably find a way to stab you in the neck with it and claim your suburban half-acre for his own. (He’s not one of the top three fiercest for nothing.)

I dare you to try explaining to a Viking warrior why watching the latest episode of Two and a Half Men on your wristwatch is a worthwhile activity. And as for Daniel Boone, I’m afraid the whole big-screen TV thing would be lost on him, but I bet he could fashion one helluva lean-to out of a 108-inch LCD flat-panel with HD.

Realize that just by stepping on a plane in the normal course of our daily lives, we – beings who spend an embarrassing proportion of each day sitting down or laying prone and looking for new ways to amuse ourselves – accomplish something Alexander the Great and the whole gang believed possible only in myths: we fly – way faster than even the fastest horse can run.

We can take off from one coast and land on a dime (on wheels – remember wheels?) thousands of miles away on the other coast in just a few hours, with a vantage point in between that was unfathomable for all of human existence until just a few generations ago. We can look down on the tops of mountains if we so choose.

So choose. When in flight, either continue striving to organize your life down to the nano-second or sacrifice a minute or two, get your head out of your Smartphone and look out the window.

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