I used to pity the older adults in my life when I was a kid. They didn’t understand the way the modern world worked. My grandparents could remember a time when televisions weren’t the central piece of furniture in every living room, when breaking news was delivered by a wooden-cased radio shaped like a tombstone. I lived in the modern world, the world of the VCR, cable TV, and the compact disc. When the VCR flashed “12:00” after a power failure, I knew how to reset it. My grandparents didn't know to set the time on a VCR because they didn’t own one. Confoundingly to me, they didn’t even seem to care. They didn’t have cable service, no longer listened to music (in any format), and had no VCR, nor did they want any of those things. Inconceivable to a teenager. Decades later, I get it.
I used to wonder what it was like for my grandparents to have witnessed such astounding technological progress in their lifetimes. What was it like to go from driving a rickety Model T to a Chevy Nova with a reliable 327 cubic inch engine and FM radio? What was it like to see aviation progress from biplanes to machines that landed men on the moon? Well, that must have been something! To a certain extent, I think I know how they felt. They witnessed a technological progression that moved from clever, to amazing, to I want one of those, to what’s that? to I can’t be bothered.
Technological advancements are relentless. At first, they amaze and astonish; we feel lucky to be living in These Modern Times. Wouldn’t it be great if I could record TV shows and watch them later? Done. Wouldn’t it be great if I could listen to all of my music in a random order? Done. I’d sure love it if I could watch whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it...without leaving the house. Done. It’d be swell if I could watch movies on a hand-held device that I could take with me on the bus. You got it. It would be awesome if I could surf the internet on that little device! Okay, here you go. Just sit back and wait, and more amazing toys will arrive. Barring a collapse of society, it’s all but guaranteed.
When the new toys arrived, I wanted them. Oh, how I wanted them. They solved a problem. They offered happiness. They brought contentment. And they kept coming, year after year, wave after wave. I kept adopting, buying the new gadget, being thrilled for a little while. I understood each of them. I knew how they worked because I read the owner’s manual with the attention of an accountant at tax time. There would be no Mystery Buttons on the remote for me, no unexplained or misunderstood modes or settings. I would master them all. Then, after surfing multiple technological waves, I began to feel different. I was losing my enthusiasm for change.
Where once I longed to get my hands on the next new gadget and upgrade to the Latest Thing, I began to feel an intense sense of meh. Another new thing, yet another new gadget. Another piece of techno junk left in the gadget drawer waiting for the day when it would be disposed of as e-waste. What was happening to me? Why wasn’t I getting that technology high anymore? I had lived through too many cycles.
Go through a technological leap once, and it’s astounding; twice, and it’s cool; three times, and it’s fun; four times, and it’s “okay, I guess I’m ready.” I got tired of reading the owner’s manual, weary of delving into the details of the mysterious “ARV MODE 2” button on the remote. Sick of shifting my music library to another file format. I just wanted things to stabilize long enough that I could adjust to the last shock. This even transformed into a strange longing for the past. Things sure were simpler back then. I only had one phone and it was attached to the wall by a coil of plastic cord. I knew how records worked: a needle wiggled in the tiny grooves and its motion got amplified. Simple. Understandable.
Now I know how my grandparents felt, why they didn’t want a VCR. They’d been through enough. Enough change. Enough upheavals. What they had was good enough, it served the need. The radio played, the television reception was okay, and everyone had as much entertainment as they needed. Sure, there were new technologies waiting to be purchased at the Sears down the street, but ehh, who needed it? I don’t know how that stuff works anyway, and what’s more, I don’t care.
And so, here I am, smack in the middle of the Internet Era, where anything that can be imagined is likely to appear if I just wait another six months. Will I want it when it comes out? Not like I used to. I’ll probably feel a shot of intrigue for a moment and think “that would solve my problem!” just before I remember that it’ll mean reading another owner’s manual or website FAQ and clearing more space in my gadget drawer. I can’t be bothered; my DVR has a bunch of shows recorded on it, and I’ve got all the entertainment I need.