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. Continue reading “Listen to Old People About Tech”

A Few Thoughts on Technology and Transitions

It’s always amazing and heartening how much inspiration we can draw from the next generation, whether they are our own children or someone else’s. In my personal life, my younger daughter dragged me, kicking and screaming, into the world of social media, into getting my first stupidphone, and later into video chatting (during her  years of medical school on the other side of the country). Now these technologies are part of my everyday and work life. They’ve saved my sanity during the pandemic.

I think it’s good to keep learning new things, to use our minds and bodies in different ways. One of the challenges of these new computer-based technologies is that they require us to use different methods of thought. The transition, for example, from keyboard-based word processing programs (like WordStar for DOS, the one I first used) to graphics-based (Windows) programs entailed a different logic and hand coordination. And both of them are a far cry from the typewriter I used to write my first published stories.

My very first stories (actually, my first umpteen attempts at novels) were written by hand in composition books or on scratch paper. I remember reading an interview with the British mystery writer Dick Francis, in which he described writing in ink in composition books (and that it had never occurred to him that a story, once written, could be revised!) so the method is definitely a time-honored one. Once I learned to type (in high school, on those really heavy manual typewriters) that became my preferred method, although when my children were small, I always carried a spiral-bound notebook on which to work on the Story of the Day in odd moments. Retyping a revision was a major chore, since I had to do it myself. I became expert in the application of white correction fluid. At least carbon copies were no longer necessary, but I had to take my finished manuscript to a copy shop because in those days no one owned a home copier.

I am of several minds about whether the ease of making changes as I go, being able to print out a manuscript at any stage, and so forth, have really changed how I write. I love the saying that the most important word processor is your brain. Perhaps I splat over the page, as it were, more spontaneously when I use a computer just because it’s so easy to tidy up my prose later.

That can be a good thing as I follow whatever wacky idea pops into my mind. Some of them are truly best expunged but others are quite juicy. In some ways I am more focused now than in 30 or 40 years ago; I know much more about how to put a story together, even if it isn’t one I’ve outlined.

Having multiple writing media available to me is a great thing. I often go back and forth when I’m stuck, especially between dictating and typing or typing and longhand. Dictation using voice recognition software is especially great for dialog or speeches (can you see me acting out the parts of the various characters?) Just as we don’t all write in the same way, I don’t write in the same way all the time. Sometimes words flow and then I want the medium that allows me to best keep up with them. But other times I’m stuck (or sulky, or distracted, or tired) and switching can help get things rolling again.

In the end, though, the only version that matters is the one in the hands of the reader.