Y'know, When I Was A Kid...How Tech Bit Me In The Butt

Y'know, when I was a kid we didn't have a telephone in our home; there was a phone box on the corner if you really needed to make a call - and our family was not that unusual in that regard in our neighborhood. Now, this was Scotland in the late 1950's and early 1960's, but I venture to say that these days in that same neighborhood almost everyone has a mobile (cell phone/smartphone) - I see a lot of them on Facebook, for one thing!

My neighborhood was not rural, it was a "bigger" small town - we had cars and motorbikes not horses and carts, although many folk chose to use public transportation or just to walk, if the weather cooperated, which it occasionally did.  There were no personal computers yet, but I remember how my friend Mike showed me a pocket calculator he had built from a kit - a Sinclair Scientific - it was just the coolest damn thing at the time.

I was always at least somewhat interested in gadgets - it was probably the whole science fiction/space exploration sort of thing going on in the sixties. As I grew up, I pursued (half-heartedly at first) a career in electronics. I finally realized that goal after I got married and moved to the USA in 1982.

I sort of drifted in a fairly organic and unplanned way from electronics to computers, as analog electronic circuits started to give way to digital circuitry and the use of microprocessors. The jobs I had along the way changed too, of course, and each one would introduce some other piece of technology which captured my imagination.

I was aware of the generation gap in technology, as my Mum and Dad (born in the late 30's early 40's) were always mystified by what I actually "did" at work. My wife would actually have a hard time describing my work too, although she has opened my eyes to an important truth regarding people who are not really interested or comfortable with technology.

It's obvious really, but often overlooked; if you can show someone that a piece of technology can actually help them with something they already enjoy, you have a real chance to introduce them to it and to see them embrace it. You don't have to do this by sitting them down at a computer and showing them how to use a search engine.

As with most things, you can "lead by example". Sooner or later, you'll likely get an opening; "How did you put those lovely flowers on the computer screen?" or "Can you look on the computer and tell me how many pints are in a liter?", things like that.

My wife discovered she loves those Flash-based computer games (they all seem to be the same game to me, but she loves 'em). That was her opening into the world of email, online banking, YouTube and so on. She still hates checking her email, but who doesn't? She does all of this with no help from me, and is actually much better at searching for stuff online than I am, although she still professes to have little interest in the computer.

The thing is, she is being truthful; she has no desire to know or learn about hard drives and so on - and she really should not have to. She sees the computer as a (sometimes) useful tool that she can use to amuse or educate herself. I suspect my wife is like most people, even the senior generation. One does not have to know about Android or e-Ink or WiFi to enjoy reading a book on a lightweight e-reader with a screen that actually looks a lot like a paper page rather than a bright computer screen (and even better, you can make the text really big).

Technology isn't so unsettling when you just think of it as something you can use to your benefit, rather than something you have to fully understand. No one knows everything, particularly in the fast-moving world of technology - and you don't have to. When I was a kid, I didn't know about gyroscopic forces, center of gravity or longitudinal stability - but I know I loved riding my bike...

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