Oh, Technology! What a strange and twisted path we’ve taken together. At times, you’ve wooed me, showed me a world of possibilities, and then you’ve spurned me, leaving me bitter and betrayed.
You are amazing. There’s no question about it — the way you morph into something newer and often better, at an ever-quickening pace. But you also distract, leaving us half-focused on the world around us, our eyes darting about like junkies for an available screen. You’re fickle too — one minute I’m digging through my mix tapes and you’ve already moved on to streaming online playlists.
The Early Years
I guess you could say we got off on the wrong foot. Me, the naïve young thing, an eager inventer. You, refusing to make my second grade Valentine Mailbox pop open automatically though I’d painstakingly drawn a button labeled “PUSH HERE TO OPEN” on the pink and red wrapped coffee canister.
I was disappointed but it didn’t take long for you to win me back. My neighbor’s Atari 2600 soon had me hooked.
I remember how I loved watching the little skier twist and turn in place as the mountain terrain raced behind him. Shooting At-Ats in an Empire Strikes Back game, saving poor little Frogger from a cruel Semi-induced demise, and helping that little dude jump over quicksand enabled me to wile away the hours when I should have been playing outside.
The Home Front
At my own home, things were getting pretty crazy as well. Though the yellow rotary phone would remain in its kitchen perch making reassuring chaaaaaaaaaa-chaaaaaaaaaaaa sounds for many years to come, the hall phone had been updated with a sleek button-dial model. Soon thereafter came an answering machine: “Hello, you’ve reached the Rothaus residence…” announcing our arrival in the big time. We had places to go, things to do, people to see. Obviously, we needed someone to take a message. (But can you blame me for resenting it those times the tape would get stuck and all of the messages mangled?)
Your VCR was life-changing too. We could now play back blurry videos of every community theater production we participated in since some other kid’s parent was always eager to show off his camcorder skills. And my parents could record every program that they thought we’d want to save and rewatch for all eternity — The Winter Olympics! The ’84 presidential debates! The Louis Rukeyser Wall Street show! These videos sat dust-covered in the newly installed drawers below the TV, until they’d be re-used to tape something even more memorable: the week’s Thursday night NBC line up, the special on the Kennedys, the ’88 vice presidential debates…
Meanwhile Dad brought home an Apple 2C, relegating his trusty, grey electric typewriter to a little fold out table. (Oh, the shame!) But that Apple 2C really was something. Dad said he used it for work, but how could he ignore the starter disks — those big, square, floppy wonders that demonstrated the home computer’s amazing ability to play music — Mozart for God’s sake! — and all the cool graphics you could use to print 10-page long signs on perforated printer paper.
Fast forward to New York
Time marched on and my Walkman which once blew my mind was replaced by a Discman and finally, reluctantly, an MP3 player. In the personal phone arena, I held out for as long as I could, proudly counting myself among a handful of New Yorkers in the late ’90s not to carry a cell phone, not reachable at all hours of the day. But in your typical “I told you so” fashion, you finally convinced me after I spent an hour waiting for a date to meet me at the FlatIron building. If only we’d had phones, we would have known that we were standing exactly 20 feet apart on opposite sides of the flattened façade.
Long Distance Love: The Skype Years
In 2004, while living abroad, it was thanks to you that my cell phone could receive a sweet but bashful “texto” message inviting me on a date with a handsome Frenchman. And then it was you, Technology, who made it possible with your newest revelation, Skype, for me to talk and continue seeing this man who would become the love of my life. We lived on different continents, with an 8-hour time difference between us but for two years we spoke in this way for free every day in between actual visits.
What a wonder! In the mid-20th century, my grandfather wrote long letters from America to his sisters in Eastern Europe, unable to see or speak to them for years at a time. My mother told me stories of the expense, excitement and difficulty entailed in placing a trans-Atlantic phone call even in the ’70s & ’80s, Suddenly, I was doing something that I’d thought would only ever be possible in a James Bond movie.
And then, years later, again thanks to Skype, when I had to return to work in Charlotte and my husband was able to prolong his vacation in France for a few more weeks, we were still able to communicate as though we were in the same room. Though I was speechless, my husband took one look at my stunned reaction and instantly knew the results of the pregnancy test I’d just taken.
The Dark Side
But as you continued to amaze, I also started seeing your dark side. Sitting in meetings, I was shocked by the way certain people glued themselves to their Blackberrys. Sometimes they’d be totally disengaged from a meeting that they were supposed to be leading! I could never imagine this kind of detachment from the real world and the simultaneous compulsion to be constantly connected … until my husband got me an iPhone.
Suddenly, I was tuning out the world and turning all of my focus online. An email just arrived? I-need-to-respond-immediately… my kid said something funny? I-need-to-facebook it…(and how did that become a verb?)
Where Do We Go From Here?
As the years zoom by, you seem to dole out your wonders faster and faster. Our house is filled with gadgets, thanks to my husband’s knack for being as much an early adaptor of technology as I am a reluctant one. iPad, Nook, Chromecast, AppleTV, smartphones, netflix, nespresso, amazon, youtube, Twitter… how could I live without you? But as much as I use and love you all, I can’t help hearing that little inner voice saying: “yes, it is absolutely amazing that my son just took his first steps and we could instantly share video all around the world. But isn’t there something a little sad about me wanting to rush back to the computer this afternoon to finish this blog?”
I guess our love story will continue, for better and for worse. Because when I look at all the evidence, Technology, it sounds like most of the time it’s me, not you. I just wish we could take things a little more slowly at times… and always stay friends.