Listen to Old People About Tech

There’s an ongoing narrative that the only people who truly understand modern tech are the young. “They grew up with it,” people say. “They’re digital natives.”

They’ve been saying that for a long time now and it has been applied to every new-fangled invention, not just computers or smartphones. I mean, it was a thing with VCRs back when folks were still deciding between VHS and Betamax.

While I’m sure some kid whose mom stuck an iPad or smartphone in their hands to keep them occupied so she could have some peace and quiet is faster than I am at figuring out how new tech works, I don’t think this means they are more suited for making decisions about where tech is going.

The folks you really need to ask about digital tech are us Boomer and Gen-X types who dove into it when personal computers first showed up on the scene, plus the Millennials who came along shortly afterwards when computers were being used everywhere.

I got my first computer in 1983, which is more than 40 years ago. And I’ve been online since the mid-1990s, which is getting close to 30 years ago.

I’m not a techie and getting my Kaypro II was the last time I came anywhere close to being an early adopter. But I’ve been dealing with this stuff for more than half my life.

I watched the Internet become something back in the day when everyone was asking “but how will we make money out of it?” Then I watched the capitalists take over Silicon Valley. Now I’m watching the enshittification process.

Which is to say that I saw the genuine creative process that made the early years of the internet so exciting and now I’m seeing how that can be destroyed.

If you started using all these things as kids in the last 10 or 15 years, you just assume the way devices work is the way they work. Without the history you don’t realize that things could have gone in different directions.

We older folks can remember when, say, Google search was a damn miracle instead of an advertising ploy being made worse by the eagerness to find ways to make money out of large language models labeled “AI.”

We tried all the ways to communicate, from listservs to forums. We built websites, made blogs, and created communities in various places long before anyone came up with social media – and then ruined it. And that was just those of us who weren’t all that techie; the real geeks came up with amazing software and operating systems.

The writerly sorts among us remember Word Perfect – a few writers I know still use it – which was definitely better than Microsoft Word. These days I see writers complaining about all the “improvements” to Word that are making it less functional.

I’m sure many younger folks who aren’t writers don’t even bother with Word anymore – even I use Google docs for a lot of things – but here’s the thing: people who do a lot of writing need software they can not only work in, but save for the long term in readable format on a device only they control.

No one wants to print everything out and put it in a file cabinet anymore. One of the things we were supposed to get with PCs was freedom from paper.

I know young people don’t bother to print things out, because they don’t have printers. I can totally understand not having printers, given what a pain in the ass they are, but some of us do need print copies of things from time to time.

But I don’t really want a hard copy of everything I write. What I want is a readable (and revisable) archive of it on my computer.

Now when I say listen to older folks, I’m not saying that we should trust Congress (which skews old) and our various legislative bodies to figure out how to regulate tech appropriately. I’d like to be able to say that, because tech certainly needs regulating – though perhaps the money behind tech is what they really need to go after – but I haven’t seen much in the way of good legislation.

It is an unfortunate fact of our political life that far too many of our elected officials do not have a strong grasp on either the strengths or the failures of the technological revolution. They only understand that big money is now part of it, and many of them are partial to anything big money wants.

But there are a whole raft of us who’ve been using personal computers (and the devices that came afterwards) for a very long time and our experience with them is useful and valuable. We aren’t going to just go with the latest thing; we’re more likely to ask questions or to point out that there’s another way to do this.

Stop assuming old people don’t know anything about tech and listen to what we have to say.

We could even get some vastly improved tech out of it. Though I’m not going to hold my breath.

3 thoughts on “Listen to Old People About Tech

  1. Yes! to everything you’ve said.

    On a side note, for those (non-Mac-users) who decry Microsoft’s cynical move to a license structure for their office suite, there is a more than adequate open-source option in LibreOffice. It’s pretty comparable to Word and Excel, and there’s no risk of losing access to one’s personal documents because one refuses to be held hostage to an extortionate yearly subscription fee.

    Thankfully there are still small pockets of open-access offerings out in the tech world, if one knows where to look for them.

    1. I am looking at Libre Office, though I am on a Mac. My partner uses it. My biggest problem these days is that I don’t want to have to do all the work and pay all the attention to tech that it will take to have something that’s sort of what I want. OTOH, if I get one more message from Google or Microsoft about using their AI, I’m going to scream, so there is some motivation.

      1. Yeah, it’s kind of like having to go to four different grocery stores just to find all the ingredients you’re looking for because none of them carry all the same products.

        I have Mac too, and I love Keynote. Pages and Numbers are both good for many things, but they have a few quirks that annoy me, which is why I stayed so long with Microsoft Office. I currently have access to Office through my university, but when that ends, I’ll be waving goodbye to it in my rearview mirror…

        As for AI, hell, I don’t even use autocorrect. I refuse to let a computer make my mistakes for me while it—hilariously, and wrongly—second-guesses what I’m trying to say.

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