Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Being old has its perks

 There are times when I'm glad I'm as old as I am and raised my children in the era before mobile phones, let alone smart phones and social media. Internet technology and communications has changed our lives in extraordinary, unimaginable ways since I made my first phonecall at the age of seven on my parents' one black rotary phone, that sat in the kitchen attached to a long, easily tangled cord. And since I used a slide rule to make calculations and my mother's old typewriter with its two-coloured ribbon to type the most important university papers.

I thought I'd been adapting and keeping up with the times quite well for a pre-IT dinosaur; I managed to analyze my PhD research data using an interactive statistical program (albeit on the university's computer, not my own PC), I have grown to love writing on the computer, although I still write first drafts long-hand, and I tolerate spellcheck, but not grammar check (which doesn't understand fiction writing). In 2009, when social media became a force, I joined Facebook and later Twitter (since deleted) and Instagram, recognizing their value for keeping up with friends and connecting with readers and book lovers. I created a website which I can update myself, I joined this blog. When the pandemic hit, I learned about the new frontiers of video chats, which vastly opened up our world to places and people far away. During this time, I launched two books using Zoom and still use it for the occasional remote book event. I've even learned to give Powerpoint slideshows over Zoom, which is much easier than trying to show them to a live audience.

But although the Internet and social media have enriched my life, they are not my primary contact with the world. I still love being out in nature, getting together with friends, and connecting with readers and other writers in person. I shop online for some things but still prefer to see and touch potential purchases in person. I still like to roam through stores. 

For some, though, especially the younger generation (anyone under 35, LOL), there has never been a world with screens and digital connections. My own children did not have cellphones, nor did any of their friends. There was no such thing as social media. In their vulnerable teen years, there were rudimentary chat forums as well as email and video games that allowed them to interact online, but because this was limited to a desktop computer (a single computer for all of us, only later did they get their own), the digital world did not follow them around and invade every moment of their lives. No online bullying or unwanted photo sharing, no instant group communications of the latest parties or transgressions. Bullying and social exclusion have always been with us, especially in the pre-teen to early teen years, but social media has amplified it to horrifying heights. Even adults can be destroyed by a negative post gone viral. 

This destructive force is bad enough but our over-reliance on the digital world has even worse consequences. The brain is growing and changing constantly over the first twenty years of life and needs the right stimulation at critical times for optimal development. I remember worrying , as a psychologist, about the effects on young brains of researching material using website-hopping and cut-and-paste answers. I feared young people would not develop the concentration and in-depth analytical thinking needed to see the big picture and synthesize ideas abstractly. And in the younger, developing brain, the loss of creative, unstructured play and hand-on exploration, of sustained attention, and managing time, frustration, and challenge can never be recovered.

I could go on and on, but that's not the purpose of this blog. I started off by saying I was glad I'm as old as I am. My children avoided the pitfalls of modern technology, although I worry about my grandchildren, aged 4 and 5. I have mostly learned to use technology as a tool and an assistive device, but also know how to do many things the old-fashioned way. I am glad that that I've managed to write twenty books without using ChatGPT and will not be one of the millions of hopeful writers trying to be noticed over the flood of fake writing. I think Thomas's point that AI produced a mediocre novel at best and mediocre marks on law exams is heartening, suggesting the power of a truly brilliant mind will still shine through, but it may be only a matter of time before the AI programmers figure that out too. By that time, with any luck I will be beyond the need of lawyers, or intelligence of any sort. 


Susan Bexton said...

Agreed, Barbara. Nothing more to say.


Unknown said...

Oh, that old typewriter! I remember it well.

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