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Connections: Old Dog, New Trick

Wed, 09/11/2019 - 12:20

The names of mobile devices — not to mention the lingo used to describe the things they do — are Greek to me. Obviously, I know “app” is short for “application,” but will you think I am a nincompoop if I admit I still don’t know why we stopped calling them programs? Aren’t apps just software programs? I’m sure this marks me as a curmudgeon akin to those who refused to stop calling the fridge a “Frigidaire” or a suitcase a “valise” back in the last century, but I feel all right about feeling old-fashioned. I’m not dying to use WhatsApp or TikTok or whatever else my grandchildren are addicted to today.

I remember how much of a wiseacre I acted like back in about 1990 when computers were new to The Star. We felt we were on the cutting edge of what was then called “word processing” when we adopted desktop computers and switched from typewriters to a program called XyWrite. XyWrite? The Star’s longtime editor at large, Irene Silverman, and I plunged into it, our minds and fingers ready for the brave new world. How smug we were that our colleagues over at The Southampton Press still refused to believe that the red grease pencil and paper were on the way out.  (I do have one friend who still relies on the latter, to this day, and I admire him for it. Bill, if you have relented, please let us know.)Those of us of a certain age have seen a revolution not just in how we work and run our daily lives, but in language. Many commonplace processes of the digital age are identified by old language that has taken on new meaning: “streaming,” for example. Or “viral.” Or “poke” (though, I must admit, I’m not quite sure what “poke” refers to on social media, and I don’t think I care to know).

Given the ubiquity now of smartphones, most of us rely seamlessly on apps, even though we have little idea and, usually, zero interest in learning how they work. Technology has raced ahead so swiftly that we, average consumers, can’t keep a handle on it. We leave it to the masterminds at Mac and Microsoft to make these choices for us. XyWrite, I am sure, was the last time I would ever be on the cutting edge of digital adaptation.

Perhaps we can compare the digital revolution to cars. The automobile replaced the horse and buggy, and — as with computers today — most drivers of the then-new vehicles had to throw their hands up and admit they didn’t know how the engines worked. A horse you could understand — give it shelter, keep it warm, keep it well shod and well fed, and it would keep on trotting — but a combustible engine? Leave the mechanics to the experts. It’s almost as if technological advance makes us more and more helpless, and less and less self-reliant, instead of the other way around.Which brings me in a roundabout way to the fact that I want my husband’s and my next car to be electric. The time has come for an electric car! We don’t have much of a clue about how one works, but we don’t care.

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