I’ve never claimed to understand technology. I’m the kind of guy that just wants to push the ON button and have everything work. I’m a creature of habit. I want to start my morning with my brewed cup of coffee, my laptop open on my table, and the programs I’ve chosen to use all working correctly. I want to sip on my caffeine and toggle between an electronic comic book and an open browser with tabs for Facebook, Yahoo Mail, and CNN. (That’s right, I still use Yahoo Mail, that same account I set up back in 1997, which now has tens of thousands of archived Emails in it).
Nothing infuriates me quite so much as technology that won’t work. Random computer viruses (probably from visiting the wrong porn site), laptop batteries that die a bit too quickly (probably because I haven’t updated in far too long), or a change in the homepage when I open Internet Explorer (probably because I didn’t click some box when I opened some account), they make me crazy. Those and intrusive Internet ads that require me to click eight little ‘X’s to escape. I hate altering my habits, and I hate being inconvenienced. So when something isn’t working right, I can quickly go from calm to ‘I’m going to smash you with a hammer, stomp on you, and dump you in a lake somewhere!’ without warning.
A few days ago, I called my mother and asked her about day. She was slightly insane, having been on hold with Amazon tech support for two hours. Her Alexa machine wasn’t working, and when she called to get it figured out, she found out there was something wrong with her login account. She needed some sort of password change, but she couldn’t change it because the Email she had registered with didn’t match the Email she was currently using. She was transferred multiple times, put on long holds, and forced to listen to ear-worm music for hours when all she wanted was to get the weather report from Alexa in the morning like she was used to. (I can’t count the number of hours I’ve spent on the phone with tech support agents over the years).
It takes me months, if not years, to adapt to changes in tech when they take place. When I get a new phone, it doesn’t feel right for so long. My thumb doesn’t tap the screen in the same place, it fits differently in my palm, and the volume down button is in a new place. My first cell phone was simple, just a phone. Now my screen is filled with apps, and there is a camera always pointed at my face recording who knows what and showing it to who knows who. I have to monitor data usage, and I have an Autocorrect demon living inside that is determined to make my life a living hell. I tell myself that I’m not attached to my phone, but I always have it on me. It’s always in my hand, in my pocket, or right next to me. I check it during red lights while I drive. It is the last thing I look at before I go to bed, and the first thing I reach for when I wake up. When I’m forced to disconnect from it, due to a dead battery, or a low WiFi zone, or even during a movie, I have a mild anxiety that doesn’t go away until I can see what the new headlines are, if I have any new Emails, and if anyone new liked my latest Facebook post. It’s crazy-making realizing this. But again, I’m a creature of habit and I don’t want to change anything.
It is daunting to realize technology has defined and dominated every single part of my life, from childhood on. When I think back, I get these flashes of tech that represent such key moments in my life along the way. 1984: recording myself singing on cassette player. 1985: typing out endless computer program commands on the Texas Instrument Basic for hours in order to play Hang-Man. 1990: playing Super Mario Brothers and the Legend of Zelda on Nintendo for the first time and having Mom comment behind me that “these graphics are so awesome!” 1993: getting my first CDs for Christmas and listening to albums my very own Disc-Man. 1995: playing Super Mario 3 for 16 straight hours one Saturday, with no breaks at all. 1996: setting the VCR to record my favorite programs while I was at work, then fast-forwarding through the commercials later when I watched; that and spending an hour looking through movies I might want to rent at the local video store. 1997: tying up the phone lines with the obnoxious sounds of America Online connecting to the Internet, then clicking on a webpage I was interested in only to leave the room for several minutes while the page loaded. 2001: getting my first cell phone for $20 per month, one that would allow local calls only, and with only 200 minutes available. 2005: uploading all of my CDs into music files on my computer, and then converting the songs to a different format in order to pile them on to my new IPOD. 2008: experiencing distress because my DVR was filling up with re-runs of my favorite shows, and knowing there were new things I wanted to watch. 2010: buying a combination DVD and VCR at home because so many of my favorites were still on VHS. 2012: asking students in a college classroom to stop playing Angry Birds and listen. 2014: growing completely frustrated because I couldn’t get my iPhone to sync up to my car’s stereo, and thus getting teased by friends for still using CDs. 2018: sitting down on the couch and deciding if I wanted to watch a show on Hulu, HBO, Amazon Prime, Netflix, CBS Online, or YouTube; years ago, I would have just chosen from a local channel, but who has local channels anymore? (As I make this list, I realize each one of these experiences could elicit their own blog entry).
I look toward the future and wonder what is possible. Self-driving cars, Virtual Reality interfaces, the cloning of human organs, DNA engines. Tech will change in the next 20 years as much as it has in the past 20, and one day in the future, my sons may sit down to write about how things are so different for them than it was when they were kids. I’ll constantly be adapting just like they will. Everyone has to.
Sometimes I sit back and ruminate on the floating Internet out there, the data that forever preserves videos and photos in some virtual space. I think of archived Email folders, about the super-villain fan fiction that I wrote back in college, about college transcripts and submitted term papers. I think of the LGBT history video series I did on YouTube, about social media comment wars I’ve engaged in, about Instagram photos, about sexy pictures I’ve sent back and forth with friends. What would people find were they to Google my name, and what if they looked just a bit farther? Who is saving my photos? I exist out there in that data stream, and I’m not sure where. It’s exhausting, thinking of this. And yet, there are eight billion people on the planet. I exist as only drops in the ocean. This blog entry will just be one more particle.
Years ago, I opened up a broken laptop to look at what was inside. Clips, screws, and elastics held delicate components in place. There were fans, bands, and bizarre metal pieces, all wired into a larger motherboard. Looking down on the tech felt like viewing a city from an airplane. Geometric squares and circles, connected by paths and blips. Shrunk to tiny size, I could get lost in a city like that, lost in the motherboard.
I guess I already am.