Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Down Side of "Instant"

God, I'm getting old.

At dinner the other night somehow the discussion turned to technology - or, specifically - the lack of technology when my wife and I were growing up.

As I sat there an recited a list of all the things that weren't invented when I was a kid - computers, video camera, "digital" anything, microwaves, VCR (forget about DVDs), fax machines, cell phones, pagers, PDA's, video games (well, OK, "Pong" came out when I was 10), cable television, copiers, printers, ATMs, phone machines, super glue, voicemail, coffee makers...

"...and did you have stone dishes and cook over a fire, Daddy?" (true question from my 6 year old daughter)

Well, I'm not THAT old. Don't get me wrong we had our "cool" technology of the time: 8 track tapes, CB radios, Super 8 movie cameras, IBM Selectric typewriters (VERY advanced "business machines"), fondue machines, Tupperware, Tang, 3 TV stations (with a 25 foot antenna on the roof), Christmas lights with individual "screw-in" bulbs...

Even without the technological advances of today, people still managed to get stuff done.

We would use carbon paper pressed against a second piece of paper when we typed up a letter so we would have a copy. We did things like write and letter, put a stamp on it, and {gasp!) MAIL it. We went into a bank branch to make a deposit or withdrawl, transfer money, or do anything else with money. You would call people on the phone if you wanted to "instantly" communicate with them - or better yet - just drop by their house or office.

We would play with "boring" toys like blocks, Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets. We would play games like Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders and Candyland. When a new Disney movie came out either we would go to the drive-in as a family or see it in the theatres. Once. Ever.

Then, things got "faster." We had one hour photo developing, a "fax" machine - for "instant" communications (at 600 baud!), "instant" soup, "instant" copies.

Fast forward to today.

We have "instant" messaging, "email" (instant" communications), Blackberrys (when email is just too slow), every Disney movie made on VHS and DVD (and probably even Beta!) for the "instant" Disney experience, satellite TV and radio with 200+ stations (to "instantly" suck up all your free time and rot your brain), TiVO (will "instantly" record 2 shows at once), iPods ("instant" music anywhere), cell phones ("instant" communication), PDF documents rather than faxes ("instant" archives), 1GB USB hard drives ("instant" storage), "lunchables" ("instant" kid lunches), two way walkie talkies built into phones (when dialing is not "instant" enough), broadband ("instant" downloads when compared to dial-up)...

We place 5 million cell phone calls, send over 10 BILLION instant messages and 3 million SMS messages PER DAY. With all this technology that lets us "instantly" connect and get our work done, and with all the other "instant" technologies we have today - we should have a 3 hour work week.

But, of course, we don't.

We now work (on average) more than 40 hours per week, take less vacations, and when we DO take a vacation - we tend to pack the Blackberry, cell phone, laptop and iPod and look for hotels that sport free wireless Internet connections.

We're turning into a society that has ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). And yet, we're still dreaming of a time when things are MORE "instant." We want things to go faster, take less time and effort so we can... ummmm... well, spend even MORE time working, and less time interacting with our friends, families, churches, organizations and clubs.

I don't know about you - but I'm still waiting for the "instant" meal pills, flying cars that fold into a briefcase ("instant" transportation) - or at the least my own rocket pack. I want an "instant" dog walker attached to my house floating in the sky, a personal robot to "instantly" cater to my every whim, a computer that recoginizes speech and can anticipate my needs... Ok, so I watched too many "Jetsons" growing up - but I still want them.

If ONLY I had those things... THEN I would take time to smell the roses. THEN I could find the time to attend my kids' games. THEN I could donate my time to others. THEN I could _____________ (fill in the blank).

Technology has come a long way since I was a kid. I marvel at what humankind has been able to accomplish in such a short time. I wonder what the future will hold. I wonder what it will be like when my kids are my age.

Now if only I had an "instant" time travel machine...

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