Friday, August 26, 2011

Five Technological Innovations I Resist

Holy crap, a Five Things post? For reals? For very reals.

On the long continuum between “Luddite” and “hyper-early adopter” I am definitely much closer to the latter than the former. I like gadgets, I’m pro-progress, and I place great faith in the ability of technological innovations and science in general to improve humanity’s overall lot. Obviously I make my living in a field that could not exist without both computers and the glorious, glorious interwebs. And yet … every so often I find myself realizing that there is some newfangled thingamajig which actually isn’t all that new and has in fact been widely embraced by most of my fellow first-worlders, all the while remaining alien to my personal experience because I just can’t bring myself to get on the bandwagon. I’m honestly at a loss to explain why this happens at all, let alone why certain things strike me as awesome while others leave me cold. Nevertheless, here’s a handful of examples:

1. E-books You would think that given how highly “voracious reader” ranks in my self-conception that any and all delivery mechanisms for the printed word would be dead center in my wheelhouse, but … eh. E-books really, really leave me cold, in an abstractly conceptual way because I’ve never read anything in that format (though I certainly observe them constantly on the train these days). Part of it is no doubt that I really like physical, dead-tree books and I’m having a hard time letting go of that sensory experience. There’s also the fact that I’m a collector and displayer and I like lining up spines on bookshelves so people can see them as they walk through my home, which e-books don’t really allow for. (Now of course I’m having visions of the near future where people hang plasma flatscreens on their den walls which would look like bookshelves with spines of books on them, and you could scroll from side to side as if the infinite shelf were on little ballbearings and then you could hold your personal tablet up to the flatscreen and tap a book’s spine and it would download the contents to your tablet to be read.) I think the real tipping point or me will only come when certain works are only published electronically and impossible to read in any other format. As long as I have a choice between paper pages and an e-reader, though, I seem to prefer things old-school.

2. Audiobooks Do not even get me started on audiobooks, though. What really drives me crazy is people who say “I read ten books this summer!” but that means they interpreted printed characters between the covers of two books, and listened to eight people reciting the contents of eight other books. Doesn’t count, I don’t care how irrational that sounds. Does. Not. Count. This has actually been on my mind a bit lately as I’ve talked to a couple of friends who’ve tried to tempt me into maybe jumping ship from my current job and working with them. All other considerations notwithstanding, both times my long commute came up and my friends pointed out that their offices were significantly closer to my house. But of course, those locations are not really mass-transit accessible. I’d be commuting for less of each day but I’d be responsible for all the driving, and goodbye reading list (and might as well cancel Netflix, too, while I’m at it). In my mind, I could hear the counter-counter-arguments, though: you don’t have to give up on books! You can’t read while you drive but you can listen to audiobooks! NONONONONONO. My brain isn’t wired that way; focusing on reading is a pleasure, but focusing on listening is a chore.

Not my bag
3. Facebook When Facebook started gaining critical mass I was a little bit mystified by it, but only a little. It was touted as a great way to keep in touch with people (even before “social networking” was a widespread-enough term to cover that aspect) but I considered myself already pretty good at keeping in touch with people I actually wanted to keep in touch with. Back in the Paleolithic-tech era I used to write longhand letters to my college friends over the summer, and then once everyone had the internet at home and free web-based e-mail, I figured I was golden. Who would ever need more ease of communication than that? But I also acknowledged that not everyone is predisposed to composing long missives in any format, and for whatever reason super-short e-mails never seemed to catch on as a viable use of the medium. Maybe someday I’ll be able to unpack why if someone e-mailed me and the entire message was “I had spaghetti for dinner!” I would think they were a little weird and a little dumb, but if someone posts their Facebook status as “Havin’ spaghetti for dinner!” it’s not weird at all and in fact 7 people are going to “Like” that. (At least I assume so from my outsider stance.)

The gulf between myself and Facebook is only getting wider as it now actively annoys me in various ways. Every time I am waiting for a webpage to finish loading and I can see that the elements holding up the process are Facebook plug-ins (utterly useless to me) I curse the whole insidious concept. And while I used to possess a certain equanimity of perspective along the lines of “I prefer to keep in touch via e-mail, other people prefer Facebook” I know find myself becoming steadily convinced that other people don’t just prefer Facebook, they use it exclusively. Whenever I e-mail someone and they simply do not respond in any way, I can’t help but wonder if things that don’t originate within Facebook just don’t exist for them at all. And rather than making me want to join up on Facebook myself, this just makes me loathe and resent it more. Which is not terribly productive, I grant, but there it is.

4. GPS Ha, I bet you thought every item on this list was going to have “book” in it somewhere, didn’t you? I’m far less antagonistic towards GPS than I am towards Facebook, but I’ve never gotten around to incorporating it into my life. I suppose I can tie it in loosely to the bibliophile vibe I was working in 1 through 3 above, in that I honestly prefer to go to Google Maps or something and get directions there and print them out on an actual sheet of paper that I will carry in the car. But I readily acknowledge that having an onboard GPS allows for a lot more improvisation and ability to roll with changing plans; like I said, I really can’t find fault with the concept. And in fact I’ve gotten to the point where I expect other people to have them, and harbor very little desire to find myself in situations where I have to rise to the occasion and give someone else directions. One of these years I’ll probably get a car that has a GPS as a standard feature and I’ll wonder how I ever got along so long without it.

5. DVR And finally, an element of modern technologically-enhanced life which I’m only resisting in an effort to abide by some token austerity measures in the household budget. Absolutely no principles at stake on this one; in fact, I actively covet a DVR. But every time I think too deeply about why I want a DVR – so that I can attempt to fit even more broadcast television into my life by recording stuff that’s scheduled inconveniently and watching it on my own timetable – I feel a bit guilty for even thinking that’s a consideration worth my mental energy. Hence I’ll just bury it down here at the bottom of the list and never speak of it again. (Until we inevitably get a DVR, of course.)

1 comment:

  1. The e-book reader has served me well for two reasons: one, it's great for reading standing up on trains, so it's good for commuting. Long-ass books are awkward to handle one-handed on a lurching subway; the e-book reader never is. Two, books published prior to 1923 are public domain, so there are many, many great tomes available for free. (I can't bring myself to buy books for the thingy; given the DRM, the company's ability to take books away remotely, and the "whoops, the chip is fried and your books are gone" fear that grips me, I won't pour dough into the beast.)

    As a commuting-book supplement, larded with goodies of the past, it's fabulous. Also useful for trips, since it's a space-conserver. I look at it as the equivalent of a traveling shaving kit. I'm not giving up the bigger, better tools around the house, but it's nice to have the option when gadding about.

    Yes, I "gad."