Michael Jackson is gone. A Charlie’s Angel went back home. And now, the Space Shuttle takes its final few journeys before it, too, is gone. Lately, it seems as though my childhood is leaving in bits and pieces. I remember when Farah went from supermodel to super-serious actress. I remember when Michael wore just one glove and no one thought he was strange. And I remember that first shuttle mission, how incredible a spaceship could go up and come back down – just like a an X-Wing fighter from Star Wars.
Back then, the future of technology seemed incredibly fascinating. Machines would take over the mundane work of our lives and we would be free to pursue our passions. Just as our Star Trek heroes worked not for money, but for the love of the work, we would surely share a similar fate.
But, what has technology gotten us? A 24-hour a day news cycle, 365 days of work, we are always connected, and always on. And our mundane chores, well, they’re still here. We still have to fit in time to do the laundry, mow the lawn (unless you have one of those incredibly neat automatic mowers), make the beds, and make dinner. Where’s my robot to help around the house? Unless you count the IRobot vacuum, it’s nowhere to be found.
So, were we too optimistic? As we watched Back To The Future, did we really believe that our gas pumps would be automated and our windows would be turned into giant TVs?
Well, our gas pumps are automated, unfortunately, because now we must pump our own, swipe our own credit card, pick up the receipt, wash the windows, and be on our way without so much as a “Have a Nice Day.”
TVs are getting closer. The one hanging on my wall now is pretty thin, but it’s not ready for the roller shade any time soon. I suppose by the time I grow too old to care about those new shiny technologies, I’ll be buying a TV shade.
What about computers? They were supposed to free us – but, did we ever really envision the Internet? I was there in 1986 as the first Internet, finally freed from the confines of the University mainframe, began to get noticed. I used its pitiful email system, akin to our IM today, to “talk” to my friends across the country. We thought we were so cool with our 56K modems and our giant bag cellular phones. Mine only cost about a dollar a minute back then. Quite the bargain.
Fast forward to today, where I struggle to get out that last text message while answering the call coming in. I get unlimited minutes in my network; $5 a month for unlimited texting. My husband has the Internet package, but I’m still resisting a Blackberry. Got to check the computer first thing, although now it’s a laptop with wireless so I can walk it around the house as I check my email accounts – personal and work, pop into my LinkedIn page, send a couple of Twitters, and check WordPress to see if my blog is getting any attention.
What happened to the newspaper over morning tea? When did we begin discussions with, “I just got a text from…”?
As a technical writer, I’ve seen many iterations of technology, I’m sure to see more. It’s tough keeping up these days. One thing that doesn’t change though – people still need help understanding new technology and user manuals are still difficult to navigate. Back when Michael was cool and Farah was an Angel, we were still puzzling over how to set the clock on the VCR – and it was probably a BetaMax.
So, I guess no matter what new technologies ambush me tomorrow, I can at least be assured that those new technology developers are still going to need an old-fashioned writer who can somehow translate the ideas in their minds into something the rest of us can understand. I just hope we are still using words in 20 years. I’m not so sure I’ll be very good at telepathy.
About the writer: Tammy Cook-Matranga is a business and technical writer specializing in business-to-business and business-to-consumer writing. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her website, www.tmcook.com.