My wife’s grandmother was 93 last week. She’s lived her childhood through one world war, was an ambulance driver in another, worked the switchboards in one of the first telephone exchanges, and until recently, was sprightly enough to deliver meals to housebound elderly twenty years her junior. She has a remarkable story to tell, one that I hope she will share with my children when they are old enough and wise enough to ask her to tell it.
She also experienced the greatest rate of technological change known by the human race, and seems to be happily unaffected by it. Her tech cravings are satisfied by a ten year-old TV that can be turned up really loud. This leads me to wonder how tech will affect me as I grey. Tech to prolong life, improve quality of life, augment and re-invent real life, all of this will be mundane by the time I get old. But will I be belligerently hanging on to quaint Apple iProducts of today because that was the last thing I understood how to switch on (“it just works”)?
The key trend is the blurring between the technology and the objective. When I went to university and learnt about Von Neumann architecture, technology was still the province of a few learnéd acolytes. You had to know the unpublished intricacies of the postscript file format just to get a printout the way you wanted it, and had to wait an hour or more for a really complex job. Technology was therefore by necessity, an end, not just a means.
The great change since then is that technology is relegated to a mere means to achieving your goal, and does not need to be understood to be used. If you want to print out that email, you can do so directly from your phone, whilst you’re sitting on the bus. Knowing how the printer is connected to your home network, and from there to the wider world web, is no longer important, thankfully. The only skill you have to master is to know what it is that you want to print.
So my hope when I become a silver surfer is that technology ceases to exist… at least as a separate skill that I have to master. Because I’ll have had my fill of mastering new skills, and I’ll need all my energy to be grumpy at you for turning the TV down.