With regard to modern technology, I find that people of around my age — by which I mean people in their seventies or over — are divided into two camps. There are those who have embraced the digital revolution with embarrassing enthusiasm, knowing much more about it than it is decent to know; and then there are those who, almost as embarrassingly, take pride in knowing nothing about it whatsoever. The former seem determined to show that they are not past it, that they are in tune with the modern world, and, like teenagers, are never parted from their computers, emailing and tweeting as the day is long. The latter claim to see no point in email or any of the social media and talk nostalgically about the days when people used to write each other letters in long hand.
I find that I hover somewhere between these camps. There was a time in the 1980s when I was forced to become acquainted with the internet, then in its infancy, because I had joined the newborn Independent newspaper as a foreign correspondent and was obliged to file my stories by this electronic system. The Independent was, I think, the first British paper to go fully electronic in its communications, and I earned an undeserved reputation among fuddy-duddy friends still unfamiliar with such things as a thrusting young enthusiast for technological novelty.
I would like in theory to have remained on top of developments in this field; but as the years have passed I have fallen further and further behind, so much so that I now understand very little of what’s going on. At some point I registered with both Facebook and Twitter, feeling that this was the sort of thing one ought to do in the modern world, but I don’t know how to use either, and I don’t like receiving emails from Facebook telling me not to forget people’s birthdays or that I have received a kind of message called a ‘poke’.
I get frequent emails from people asking to be my ‘friend’ on Facebook — the most recent one being from a remarkable man of 96 — and usually, if I know the person involved, I agree to the request, feeling it would be offensive not to. But that’s where our interaction ends. I don’t want to tell people what I’m up to, send them photographs, advertise my birthday, or whatever; and I am woefully lacking in curiosity about their activities, too. I don’t care when their birthdays are, and I greatly dislike the extravagant self-promotion that the social media seem to encourage among their users.
However, I am also extremely grateful to the worldwide web for making it possible for me to go on working as a journalist in the Northamptonshire countryside where ducks and chickens are my principal companions. It keeps me in constant touch with the news and enables me to look up any information that may slip my failing memory. The downside is that readers now have the ability to challenge my every statement and shower me with electronic abuse, whereas in the past they were kept in their place and had no means to vent their rage and frustration against journalists other than to get an occasional splenetic letter published in the Daily Telegraph.
One’s urgent requirement at my stage in life is to have a soothing expert at hand to advise one on what one needs to know and what one doesn’t, what electronic appliances would be useful to one and what would not, and how to make them all work usefully together. There is now far too much stuff going on in the world of technology for one even to try to understand it. A recent article in the New York Times warned that there were now so many rival products on the market that many would become rapidly extinct, and that it was important not to get stuck with one of those. Its advice was to stick with Apple, Google and Amazon for all one’s technological needs; and that, I am glad to see, is what I seem to have done. But just now I am struggling with the instructions for my new ‘smart’ television set, in which there is almost nothing that I can begin to understand.
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