The Voice of Experience: Tiptoeing around technology only lasts so long

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Last summer a family in Ontario decided to live for a year without any technology developed after 1986, the year they, the parents, were born: so nothing digital, no iPhone, no Internet. No gadgets.

They said they wanted to get outside more, interact with each other, reclaim family life. They watch television on an old set with no cable, no DVD player. On family holidays they navigate with foldout maps, not GPS. The children are young enough that they don’t need a computer for school purposes. The father of the family also says it’s “way” cheaper. I have not found any updates on their experiment, but credit to them for giving it a try.

Other people embrace technology. They purchase a device or a system when it first becomes available and upgrade on a regular basis. I am not one of those people.

When colour TV was all the rage, I said black and white was just fine. When the remote control became the order of the day, I was aghast. People should get off the couch to change the channel, I thought. When air conditioning became standard equipment in most car models, I resisted. Just open the windows, for Pete’s sake! And keyless entry — are you kidding?

I also fought the computer. I used to write 12-page letters in longhand and get wonderful long letters in return. The computer changed that. All of a sudden, we didn’t have time to write letters by hand. We were busy learning how to use the darn thing and sorting out the myriad wires and connections that formed a dusty tangle on the floor.

As I tiptoed into computer writing I could not argue against how much easier it became — that is, the actual physical process of writing. It was such an improvement over the typewriter. Yes, you could write faster, move paragraphs around, delete and add words. No more Wite-Out, no more dread about mistakes, no more carbon copies, no more wasted paper.

On second thought, the computer was supposed to make paper unnecessary, but there’s something about the human condition that insists on copy in hand. Online sites say global consumption of paper has increased since 1980. Businesses and government seem unable to go paperless.

A business writer proposes eliminating email as a means of communication for companies. She suggests instead postcards, mailed to targeted clients, to make the contact more personal and effective. I like the idea; anything to upgrade the lowly postcard, which has lost so much status it barely reaches recipient before sender’s vacation is over.

It took me literally years to stumble into an email account. When I finally signed on, I wrote longish messages, not exactly what the technology was meant for. And I received longish responses, which I appreciated. But I didn’t trust its permanence. What if my hard drive crashed? So I started printing off the messages I wanted to remember, the interesting tidbits and creative emails that would eventually be lost forever.

After accumulating 30 centimetres of stacked paper, I stopped the printing process. Despite the angst, I learned to have faith in other methods of keeping important stuff while saving closet space and a tree or two as well. Maybe I was on the way to conquering my neo-Luddite tendencies? (Check out the original Luddites either online or in that encyclopedia you haven’t yet discarded.)

Alas, this year my operating system, Windows XP, became old. A perfectly fine software bites the dust. Warnings about lack of technical support keep arriving and change is necessary. I face paralysis once again.

However, I have come a long way. Colour television is nice. Remotes are now ubiquitous, and we have acquired several. Unlocking the car the keyless way turns out to be an improvement I can live with. Air conditioning goes with climate change: opening the car windows is no longer satisfactory for trips across southern Alberta in July. A recent experience with GPS in a rental car was downright entertaining; it also saved time and argument.

Like that Ontario family, we don’t text or tweet or have a Facebook account. We still own a VCR. We don’t own a dishwasher. Unlike them, I won’t be giving up on e-mail any time soon, but am I ever going to buy a car that parks itself? Not in a million years. 😉

Betsy Brierley lives beside Kootenay Lake. She used to write for the Advance a long time ago.