It occurred to me today, as Windows behaved in yet another unexpected and inexplicable way, that my generation is probably the first to remember the days when we knew how stuff worked, and are now living with a bunch of everyday items that we don’t understand the workings of at all.
When I was a boy (now that I’m 45 I get to use that phrase from now until I die), I understood how everything worked, at least basically. For instance, you could look at a car engine (cripes, you could practically climb into a car engine), and know what every part did, and how they all worked together. You could take apart a telephone and clearly see how it worked. I built a crystal radio, so I understood the rudimentaries of that, and, by extension, TV – the only difference was the cathode ray tube, which I also understood. Tape recorders, refrigerators, airplanes, adding machines; even space flight technology was within my grasp.
I consider myself a fan of science, and I like understanding how all things (including living things) work. For a while there, at McGill, where I took MIS and one of the courses taught us how computers work: from the individual electrons up through bits, bytes, assembler and higher programming languages; I even thought I knew how computers worked.
But now I’m falling way behind. I have no idea how flash memory works, for example. The computer I’m using now is so different from the one I “understood” in 1981, they’d be unrecognizable to each other. My car engine is a solid block of aluminum with several computers in it. My freakin’ cell phone has more technology in it than NASA did when I was born.
Right now, as we are learning to apply this incomprehensible technology, it’s fun. Social experiments like Facebook, instant messaging, Twitter, and sending photos and videos from your phone are examples of how people are using these tools to become closer. But this closeness is contrived. It’s too easy. I have “friends” on Facebook that I would never send a Christmas card to, for instance, even if people still did that sort of thing. I am followed on Twitter and get comments on my blog by people I don’t even know – we just happen to have crossed paths on some topic of mutual interest.
I’m not against these “artificial” relationships – I just think there will come a time, fairly soon, when people will tire of virtual companionship and start to rediscover the pleasure of going down to the pub. One of the driving forces of this will be the increasing trend towards working from home, and losing the face to face interpersonal relationships that work brings for most of us. But the more that technology separates us physically, the higher the demand will be for places that bring us together.