Confessions of a technological Luddite

Technology—what a gift! I was muttering the other day about my printer. A colleague here at America advised me simply, “Get a new one.” “It is a new one,” I mumbled back. Well, it’s six months old, and I guess that’s pretty old.

Last Saturday, in full frustration at being able to print out an article only by doing one page at a time, I’d had enough. I knew that just turning the printer off sometimes solves problems, so I pushed the power button. “Shutting down,” the little lit panel informed me. I left the office, took a long walk and returned a few hours later. The panel still read “shutting down.” I pulled the plug. That worked!

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I know there are apps upon apps out there waiting for me, thousands of them. But I cannot download a one. I need a password, and that password sits on one of a dozen-plus post-it notes all covered with passwords for this and for that. If I enter one and it’s wrong, I just try again. But do that three times, and the computer or iPad revolts, presuming I’m a hacker. I try to reset the password, but the electronic wizard I am negotiating with wants to send an email to an address that doesn’t work any longer. It wants my date of birth, but tells me I am wrong when I enter it. I cannot even buy e-books—and I know they want my money. That’s what they are all about!

I protest that in the early 1980s I was using primitive computers with screens the size of a four-by-six pad. I filled up my 5.25 inch-discs. I knew dBase II. I was a whiz at PerfectWriter. I could set the dip switches on a new printer. But that is meaningless now. Today I sit in on meetings and miss half of the content as we discuss blogs and Facebook, tweets and hashtags. Slack sends email to inform me it has sent me a notification. And little notes keep popping onto my screen every couple of minutes telling me that Dropbox has been synced or that I have a free backup available (it doesn’t work, actually) or that The Toledo Blade wants to send me an exciting new article.

A recent New York Times column by Thomas Friedman helped me understand my problem. He was analyzing the refugee crisis and the “ordered” and “disordered” regions of the world. He found three factors at play: Mother Nature, with population explosion and climate change; Moore’s law on rampant evolution in technology; and the globalization of the marketplace. The Wikipedia entry on Moore’s law is pretty detailed, but it boils down to the fact that in technology things change fast. Friedman warns us that at least the first two are just revving up their engines and observes that we “haven’t seen this play before.”

A play I have seen is the musical “Wicked.” In its song “Popular,” Glinda offers to help Elphaba, telling her not to be offended by her personality analysis but rather to “think of it as personality dialysis.” I have been wondering lately if I don’t really need some technology dialysis. Among other things, kidney dialysis removes waste and salt and maintains some chemicals safely, and it can lower blood pressure. Could technology dialysis remove useless accretions to my hardware, software and methods for using these fine tools? Could it safely keep what’s good and needed and even add new elements to strengthen the mix? That would certainly help my blood pressure!

I draw some comfort from an article in the recent edition of Conversations, a Jesuit education journal. (Full disclosure: I edit Conversations.) The author, Mike Serazio, analyzes the impact of technology on higher education and clearly argues that human contact remains essential to the whole experience of education. He admits to using YouTube clips and Facebook in class and is fully at ease with a litany of new education-tech terms like edX, Coursera, Udacity, MOOC and later TED Talk, Flipped classroom and Minerva. But Mike still self-identifies as a “fellow Luddite.” And he is only in his early 30s! Thanks, Mike.

There is no absolute correlation between my ineptitude and my age, but it is pretty strong. Young people on our staff are totally helpful and even patient. Kind of them! And with their patient help, this “Senior Editor” is resolved to start some intense learning when our schedules loosen up after the papal visit. Watch out, world!

I am looking forward to seeing this piece in print in America, since I’ve had trouble printing out a copy in my office. Printer problems again. Showing my age again. I should just pull it up on my Kindle and quit wasting paper. I really need that dialysis.

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