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Random thoughts about technology

Tuesday, 23 June, 2009

1. Technocrat?

I don't know why I find technology so interesting. I studied Arts/Creative Arts, not computer science. And yet (perhaps by virtue of the fact that I grew up with a laptop) I find myself something of a technocrat in this day and age. Things I assume everyone knows are not common knowledge (e.g. how to create tables in Microsoft Word, or how to flip between programs using shortcut keys). Even if I don't know the answer, I usually know how to find out, but I think, with most people, it doesn't occur to them that there is an answer, and so, where it would drive me absolutely mental, they are content to continue what they're doing, blissfully ignorant of better (read: faster and more efficient) ways of doing things.

2. Explorer?

Growing up with different forms of technology means it's easy for you to adapt when the new ones come along. You may not know anything about iPhones, but once you've got one in your hand, you explore, push buttons, click on things, read the manual and work out how it ticks—the internal logic of the thing, if you will. Then, once you've understood it (or at least grasped its basic nature), it becomes easier as it adapts and changes over time. (Theoretically; I have doubts about the logic of our hard disk recorder.)

3. Fatigued?

Adaptability and willingness to explore is, I think, one of the major things that separates the generations. Or perhaps the younger generations haven't yet experienced technological fatigue. I haven't yet reached mid-life, and by most people's standards, I'm an early adopter (even if I don't feel like I am), but in certain areas of technology, I do feel the fatigue. Connecting to the internet is one (my knowledge of broadband, cable and naked dsl is pretty shaky). Television is another (I'm still not 100% sure how to use our set-top box). (Incidentally, reading about America's switch to digital television was just fascinating because it really highlighted the clash between the old and the new, and, to a certain extent, technological fatigue. I wonder how it will go when it happens in Australia.)

This is why gadgets of the future need to be simpler and easier to use; who has time to flip through a 30-page manual? (Especially one that's badly written. I wonder if there will soon be more of a demand for technical writers ... the art of being able to explain complex mechanisms to seven-year-olds ...)

4. Overwhelmed?

The problem is, there's too much to know. One cannot possibly know everything there is to know about technology. One cannot possibly know everything there is to know about just one niche of technology either. Consider the internet and the building of websites: you're faced not only with the plethora of content management systems available, but databases, different programming languages (HTML, PHP, Javascript, Flash), shopping cart applications, SSL, cookies, and so on. With what I know, I could build you a website or a blog, but I don't know how to create an online store for you, and I wouldn't be able to make you a database for your CD library (Ben could though).

5. Teacher?

Because of the difference between the technocrats and the non-technocrats, and the amount of knowledge needed to bring people up to speed who don't necessarily want to learn but want things now anyway, it doesn't surprise me how frustrated people in technical support and technical jobs (e.g. web developers) get. I get frustrated enough trying to explain to colleagues how to cut and paste using keystrokes. Sometimes I think the gap is so large, it's not even worth teaching people. (Maybe that reflects my lack of patience, or my poor teaching skills.)

That's a bit unfair; I should try to treat people the way I would want to be treated. (I shouldn't look down on people who are unable to manage the chaos of their inboxes; at times, I have nearly succumbed to the same malady. This is good advice for those afflicted.) But why are most Luddites so unwilling to listen? Why don't they connect the dots? Why don't they see the big picture—the scenery beyond the funnel vision on their little problem?

6. Technocouple?

It occurred to me recently that one of the things that makes our marriage unique is that Ben and I have always had certain technologies in common. Unlike some couples where the husband is relatively techno-savvy and the wife couldn't care less (or just dabbles a little), even from the earliest stages of our relationship, we communicated not just face to face, but using different online tools—email, ytalk (i.e. early version of IM for Unix) and, indirectly, blogs. Since then, we've branched out into IM, Facebook, SMS and Twitter. At various times, we've both been into building websites, blogging and social networking. This is why I find it curious when people make comments about us talking to each other through these mediums. “You guys are married,” they say to us; “you could just talk to each other.” And, you know, they have a good point; if Ben and I are in the same room, we can talk to each other. It's just that sometimes we aren't, and what are communication tools for if not communicating? Are we not supposed to talk online just because we're married? Shouldn't it be the opposite—we're married and therefore we talk to each other online?

7. Twitter-lover?

I got asked today why I like Twitter. (NB: I finally joined because Ben was hanging out on it, and I wanted to hang out with him. And then, once I joined, I became fascinated with the technology. [See especially this New York Times article on why Twitter is unique.] I don't recommend that everyone join [in fact, given some people's comments about it, I hope they never do!]. But I recognise the value it adds to my life.) Here's my list:

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Other comments

Maybe I’m old-school, but I prefer leaving comments on your blog rather than Facebook smile

Dunno about you; I haven’t reached the point of technology fatigue, but I’m certainly at the point of ennui.

Maybe I started younger than you (yes, that’s possible, just!) but I’m now at the point of pragmatism. Things aren’t cool just because they’re new; things are good because they let me do things that weren’t previously possible, which improves my quality of life.

Being online 24/7 with smartphones may be the way of the future, but it doesn’t yet make me particularly happier or more efficient, so I’m not losing any sleep about not having an iPhone.

Lots of things have come and gone without making a tremendous blip, and a lot of them weren’t worth getting that excited about….

Great post K.

I noticed this online/offline distinction when I was in Adelaide recently - my uncle is a technocrat and my aunt not so (she’s not afraid of tech, she just doesn’t spend much time using it and isn’t interested in learning the intricacies because her husband knows them all). I kept getting my laptop out in quiet moments to catch up on email/feeds/twitter and it was said more than once, in a mocking tone, “oh, you’re just like him, always have to be connected”.

Though I have found that being able to be connected to friends and just the minutiae of my everyday life has helped me in stressful situations.  Like when I’ve been overseas and feeling adrift, misunderstood or lonely, to be able to just open my laptop and feel some sense of normalcy is so good.

Having said that, there is still the buzz of getting a good piece of snail mail from someone, or disconnecting and spending time with people face to face. But I don’t understand why some people seem to find these things mutually exclusive. Why can’t you be a fully functioning, sociable technocrat?  I think that’s where your point about tech being simple comes in - when it doesn’t mean you have to be a nerd to understand it, then it just becomes part of everyday life.

I’ve rambled again. Oops.

It’s interesting that Twitter helps you feel connected. It is starting to have the opposite effect on me. Pretty much all of my close friends who I hardly see anymore don’t go on Facebook often and don’t use Twitter… so the more I get updates from acquaintances the further and further I feel from the people with whom I wish I still shared my life. :(

Posted by Little Rach on 24 June, 2009 1:27 PM

@Haoran: I’d much rather you left comments on my actual blog than on Facebook! On Facebook, I doubt I could ever find them again. And I don’t seem to get heaps of comments these days anyway!

I know what you mean about ennui. I’m looking forward to smartphones becoming ubiquitous; then maybe I’ll get one.

@Bec: I love it when you ramble on my blog!

@Little Rach: That is sad, and a very good point. I’m sure I wouldn’t get so much out of Twitter if my closest friends weren’t on it! (Incidentally, most of my school friends, who I am also relatively close to, are into internet-y things ...)

@Haoran: wow, ennui! I’ve learnt a new word today. Must remember it for Scrabble.

In the words of Napolean Dynamite’s brother, “I love technology”.

@Karen I don’t get many comments either. I think I figured out Twitter and Facebook are eating into our blogosphere. I used to spend my internet half-hour manually visiting everyone’s blogs; now I check FB and Twitter and leave Google Reader to last, if at all.

@Elsie: Not to be confused with Thierry Henry.



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