One of the more difficult aspects of aging is that, at certain times and in certain ways, you are regrettably confronted with indisputable evidence that the world has passed you by, that you are no longer “cutting edge” in any way, and that to any rational observer you appear to have one foot in the grave. This happened recently, for example, when a co-worker called me “Mister,” claimed never to have even heard of, much less watched, the 60s TV show “Mannix,” and admitted that he was born after I began working at my first job after I graduated from college.
This phenomenon also occurs whenever I try to figure out new technology. There was a time when I was “cutting edge” on technology. In high school, back in the early 70s, I took a class on computer programming where you wrote programs using punch cards that you fed into the computer. I’m pretty sure I got a good grade in that class. I owned one of the first Texas Instruments calculators. When I was in college and worked on the Ohio State Lantern in the late 70s, we input our stories into some of the first crude standalone computer outlets — called video display terminals, or VDTs — and stored the articles electronically on hard disks. When I was in law school in the early 80s, I was the managing editor of the Georgetown Law Journal and, in that role, was responsible for maintenance of a “network” of about 12 computer terminals and a large hard drive storage unit that crashed regularly and had to be “backed up” onto floppy disks constantly. At my law firm, I was one of the first lawyers to get a desktop computer.
Those “cutting edge” days are long gone. I have a Blackberry, but use only about 1 percent of its functions. I know there is a lot more than I can do with the device than respond to e-mail, but whenever I try to figure out those other functions I become discouraged and ultimately experience the reek of failure. I have an Ipod, but use only about 2 percent of its functions. I struggle with digital cameras. And now, as I write this post, I am confronted with a menu of options that could not be more mysterious, both in terms of their meaning and their purpose — options like “b” (a good letter, by the way) and “img” and “code” and “close tags.” I couldn’t even figure out how to post a message on this blog until Richard gave my explicit, step-by-step instructions.
My maternal grandmother, who was born before 1900, never learned how to drive a car and seemed overwhelmed by the idea of manipulating the automotive technology of the 50s and 60s. From my recent experiences with technology, it is clear that she and I are related.