Thursday, May 16, 2013

Slow To Get Out Of First Gear

by: S. Renée Bess

     That’s how I approach most new communication technology. The automotive allusion is a metaphor for “cautious but not stubbornly resistant.” I have the habit of reading about new gadgets, and then chatting with friends, neighbors, randomly selected store employees, total strangers, and my sister long before I make a purchase.
     My sister holds the most sway with me. Typically, when she arrives for a visit she walks into my home office, decants a few items from her workbag, and bedazzles me with a newly acquired computer the size of the back of her hand, or a new cellphone that can do everything short of fly her from Heathrow Airport to Philadelphia International. If I’m somewhat dazed and remain unconvinced that I need to own the new equipment, she’ll continue to demonstrate its usefulness and remind me how quickly the thing will allow me to compose, print, send, tweet, post and /or text my thoughts to friends, other writers, my publisher, or to her. Frequently, she does such a good sales job, that the moment she heads back to the airport for her trip home, I grab my credit card, jump into my car, and speed to the closest tech marketplace.

     I hasten to admit I’m glad my sister pushes me further into technology’s alternate universe. I began writing fiction seriously when I retired from teaching and was well into my fifth decade. Since then, I’ve discovered writing a book is just the beginning of a process I wouldn’t be able to navigate without having certain tools, information, and know-how. If I were really proficient with all things techy, I’m sure the process would run more smoothly. But alas, I’m not. I depend upon the patience of my publisher, her liaison, and my editor.
     Here’s something else I’ve discovered. In addition to our country’s red vs. blue state, liberal vs. conservative citizenry, marriage equality vs. a man with a woman equals marriage dogma, there’s a division between those who favor e-connectivity and those who are against it. The lines that divide the two sides aren’t always clear cut. In fact, our behaviors and attitudes are inconsistent.   
     Some of us shake our heads when we enter a restaurant and sit near a family of four people who are not talking to each other but are all tapping their phone keyboards. We “tsk, tsk” at the family’s lack of true connection. Then, the second we arrive home, we rush to our computers to check our email. Some of us rail against wasting precious time trolling Facebook or Twitter. But we can’t wait to e-mail a joke to our friends or Skype with our offspring or grandkids.
     Quite a few of my real life friends have friended me on Facebook. Those who don’t use Facebook seem to regard those of us who do use it with a bit of disdain, as if we users inhabit a lower rung of the food chain. At times the non-user’s, “Are you on Facebook?” has felt more like an accusation than an innocent question. The questioner might as well have asked, “Do you use heroin?”
     When I respond that I do have a Facebook profile, the conversation continues.
     “I’m not on Facebook and I don’t tweet,” says the non-user. A glint of superiority darts from her/his eyes. “I’d rather talk in person to friends I know.”
     “As would I,” I answer. “And if you can show me another way to tell hundreds of people simultaneously that the last book I wrote is now available for sale, I’ll quit my membership to Facebook and the two writer/reader based Yahoo groups to which I belong.”
     For a brief second I think I see the faintest glimmer of a new thought as it flashes through Mr. or Ms. Superiority’s eyes. Perhaps the possibility that social networks can serve a positive purpose is dawning upon them.
     None of us can predict the far reaching consequences of today’s or tomorrow’s communication technology. I’ve decided to be intensely interested in how human interaction changes instead of feeling fearful or negative and disguising the fear and negativity in a snooty attitude. I may pace back and forth in front of new gizmos before I try or buy them, but that’s just me. I can wait a nano second for my sister to do an in-home demo of the newest, fastest, lightest weight item available before I decide to add it to my learning curve. As it stands, I have promised her I’ll replace my flip-phone with a smartphone sometime in the very near future. I intend to own one of those before the industry offers wireless device implants in the palms of our hands. 

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  1. Thanks, Renée. In some ways, I'm rebelliously Luddite, and scoff at people who don't know how to read a paper map, for example. What will you do when the zombie apocalypse is upon us and the grid goes down, I ask. No GPS then. No Siri. You need to speak ol' skool, too, I say. Don't let the tech control you. Didn't you see Terminator????? :D

  2. And now I hear young people are avoiding Facebook and twitter because they're too antiquated. They're leaving those plodding slow forums for us oldies.