Let me preface this by stating that I was born in 1985 and that makes me 27 years old. Arguably because of this, my life has been defined by the rapidly changing technology of the 20th century.
I recall the first time I encountered a computer — it really was an encounter as the machine looked rather frightening to my 10-year-old eyes. It was grey and weighed at least 25 pounds. It took what felt like forever (minutes — in its later years, hours) to load.
And it made a strange ticking noise, a repetitive sound not unlike the clock that hung in our living room, or the motion of my foot hitting the side of the metal desk as I waited for the noise the machine made once the screen finally appeared. I loved that noise. If the computer could talk I was certain it was telling me, whispering among the ticking, Welcome Home, Natalie! Enjoy your stay!
It was 1995. My two siblings and I fought over that large machine, forcing my parents to give us each an allotted amount of time. We cried and we kicked once 30 minutes had passed, 45 minutes if the gods were smiling down on us or my mother was taking a nap.
When I was 14 years old I found immense pleasure in setting up an alias online, entering a chat room, and pretending I was psychic. I predicted, tapping away at the keyboard, great fame and fortune for dozens of anonymous people… Even if it wasn’t completely honest, it was fun.
This was before technology captured and completely enraptured my teenage years. This was before cell phones and iPads and everything made by Apple, Inc. Technology was still a fantastic novelty.
Reality television had yet to dominate the time many people had previously spent reading (actual paper books!) and eating family dinner at a table, the children arguing and squirming as children do. Maybe those were the good old days, before writing became my sole vocation and left me staring at my laptop screen eight hours each day.1
In contrast to my experience, growing up alongside Bill Gates and wireless Internet, my father recalls a much different time. And when he does, his eyes glass over, he smiles slightly, and he tells me about a simpler time. My father grew up on a farm in Edmonton, Alberta, where he was taught how to kill his own dinner and catch the mice that populated the stacks of hay. I cringe when he tells me this — but he remembers this time fondly.
He tells me, while I am checking listings on eBay, that the best years in his life occurred sitting in front of a radio. Yes, a radio. He has a picture of it and I can only describe this single photograph as ancient-looking: black and white, the edges curled and yellowed. The radio itself looks archaic; the antenna nearly reaching the ceiling.
The entire family, once per week, huddled together near the fireplace and listened eagerly to the infamous Hockey Night in Canada. Sure, they had television — a few channels — and watched scratchy black and white cartoons, but it was the radio that mattered. The simplicity of it and what it represented: time spent with family and with friends.
Having heard this story once again, I wondered if perhaps a life defined by technology, social networking and television was lacking in something. Lacking in life.
I briefly considered writing an article focused on the impact of social networking and then realized that in order to do this it would require a large amount of social networking. Much too ironic, I concluded.
So I made things simple: I closed my laptop, unplugged the television, placed my iPad in my nightstand drawer and waited. I lasted exactly thirty-four hours and immediately realized that technology — for better or for worse — has a large place in our lives. But listening to my father talk about life before my wireless keyboard, well, that must have been pretty nice.
Old radio photo available from Shutterstock
- I am certain there will be a massive class-action lawsuit based on strange eye afflictions directly caused by computers. [↩]