One of the headlines which caught my eye yesterday was “15 Current Technologies my Newborn Son Won’t Use“. The attitudes of our children towards the stages of technology is always surprising. My children are stunned by the idea that I functioned as a teenager without a cell phone or email. Yet they are shocked to hear that I had a Sony Walkman. They have no clear idea of when things were developed, or what came first. Is it time for “History of Technology” to be taught at schools? That may require a whole other post.
A quick search finds many blog posts and articles about technologies our kids won’t use. Reading through them, I see two themes.
One, it shows our attachment to technology. There is a wisp of nostalgia about the lists of things and processes now thought to be archaic, or already obsolete. Two, it shows how technology has become a benchmark by which we measure age, culture, and background. Someone who grew up in a major city can boast about having broadband years ahead of the person from a small rural community. Anyone who can explain what that yellow thing is used for, and actually remembers using it, can immediately and accurately be placed within a certain age bracket.
Technology is more than tools for efficiency, for communicating, and for entertainment. Technology is a method of bonding with people, or identifying ourselves within a group. When you meet someone new at a conference, you may not be aligned politically, and you may not have any common interests or hobbies. But ask something like “Do you remember dot matrix printers?” or “Tell me about the first time you went on the internet” and it will spark a lively conversation of shared memories. The buzz of the dial-up tone, the perforated sheets of printer paper, the purple ink stains left by the mimeograph machine, the size of those first cell phones – our experiences with technology bond us according to age bracket and create a cultural touchpoint which surpasses religion and politics. As much as technology shapes the way we interact with the world, our common experiences with stages of technology shapes the way we see ourselves.