I like to say that I’m the oldest 27-year-old that I know. Let’s talk about age and how funny that can be.
In the immortal words of Shane Madej, “I am strange and off-putting!” I’ve mentioned an earlier article in this series that I was diagnosed with autism when I was in my early twenties. Here’s what that looks like for me:
Strange and Off-putting
In casual conversation, much of what I say consists of quotes from films or television programs that I watched as a child. I learned later that ques from television and films are how a lot of autistic people learn social norms, which can work more-or-less well depending on what they’re watching.
Thankfully, a lot of what I watched when I was a child was arguably not age appropriate. From a very young age I was a history buff and would while away my grade school rainy summer days watching Gettysburg and Lonesome Dove. As an adult, I don’t watch television or movies much at all. Too much excitement or drama upsets me and I usually have something better to do.
I also talk with an accent that no one can really place, because it isn’t real. It’s not a thing that I practice or that I do deliberately, and it gets thicker when I’m anxious or excited to the point that I probably sound like a Bond villain. Thankfully, whenever I’m talking to someone from outside of my obscure region of the country, I can pass it off as our regional dialect. That doesn’t work in my home town.
Finally, I’ve worn a three-piece suit every day since my second year of college – even though I work from home. This includes a pocket watch that I wear because I hate throwing away batteries and I hate carrying a cellphone. (I started working from home because I’m not good with relationships – I’m either shut off from everyone to avoid upsetting them, or I’m opening up and upsetting them.)
Why am I telling you all of this? So that you will sympathize when I tell you that the child in my life asked me if televisions existed when I was her age.
Television, Circa 2002
What’s even funnier was the answer that I had to give her: “sort of.”
I told her that televisions existed, but that they didn’t have apps. They couldn’t go on the internet, and we couldn’t watch whatever we wanted whenever we wanted, we just watched what was on at the time. Or, if we wanted to watch something, we had to remember when it was going to be on and be in front of the television at that time.
This was very alarming for her. She spends most of her screen time on YouTube so the idea of a television that worked more like the radio that we listen to in her mother’s car was a lot for her to take in. (I also don’t own a car or drive. I find it endlessly stressful and am perfectly content walking anywhere that I need to be.)
I didn’t tell her that some of my oldest memories are turning on the television in my bedroom at night to watch Harison Ford in Airforce One. The television in my room wasn’t connected to cable – it was only there for the NES. But, it still got one fuzzy channel.
She had also once asked me if cellphones existed when I was her age, and I had to give her much the same answer: “sort of.”
We had phones that we could carry in our pockets, but they couldn’t really go on the internet, or play videos or music. They could really just call or text people, some of them could take pictures, and some of them had very simple games. If I showed her a cellphone from when I was seven way back in the year of our Lord twenty-aught-two, she might not recognize it as a cellphone.
Life Is Complicated
To be fair, the Child isn’t the only one confused about how an apparent relic of the past like myself can exist in this strange future. A lot of the people that I talk to are rapidly contributing to the market growth of “dumb phones” – either phone models that just never upgraded or modern phones that just don’t bother with a lot of the bells and whistles.
Granted, I’ve explained before that most of the people that I’ve talked to are chronic Christians and/or recovering alcoholics. But still, there’s an appeal to the dumb-phone-days that some readers may not understand.
Part of me thinks that we’ve existed without all of these zany pocket computers before and we could (should) do it again. But, part of me also thinks that learning to understand complicated hardware is a part of the human experience. If I can get a little metaphysical for a moment, it’s kind of what being a human is all about.
Most of the writing that I do is about technology because I believe that people need to know how to use it. It’s complicated and a lot of the times it feels useless or extravagant, but it’s increasingly inescapable. I have written about health and wellness for the same reasons.
We all get these meat-mechs for our souls to drive around. We don’t ask for them, but they’re what we’re given and we need to know how to keep these complex organic machines working. If you’re into health and fitness you know that sometimes the more you know the more complicated it all is. But, maybe that’s true about everything else that we interact with as well.
The Paradox of Technology
User design expert Don Norman has written about the “paradox of technology.” It’s the idea that any technology is initially complicated. But, design improves it until to the point where it’s as good as it’s ever going to be. Then, as people try to add functionalities or incorporate other solutions, the tech starts to become less usable again.
Maybe, part of what makes age so interesting is less about how long we’ve been alive and more about what we’re living through. Everything that we have used, do use, or will use is at its own point along a own unique design journey.
Those of us that have been around for a while have seen new tech, tech at its height, and tech that has already been over-designed past its peak usefulness. Naturally, as we live our lives, we try to find the era of a device that we find most usable, whether we lived through it or not. I wasn’t alive when mechanical watches were in vogue, but I see it as the height of watch design.
I was alive when I had a television with a built-in VHS player. Push in the tape, the television turns on and plays the tape. The film ends. The tape stops, rewinds, ejects, and the television turns off. Tell me a blu-ray player has anything on that.
But, the child hasn’t seen that play out. The world that she knows now is all that she’s ever known. Over the course of her life, new things will be invented or discovered. Some of the things that she uses now will improve over time, while others will just become more complicated and less useful. She will embrace new solutions, cling to modern ones, and maybe pick up some from the past that work for her.
Thus Says the Joker
In The Dark Knight, the Joker gives the now iconic line “what doesn’t kill us only makes us stranger.” Psalm 90 tells us that man can live for seventy years “or eighty if he is strong.”
That’s a long time to get pretty whacky. When I look back at my life so far and extrapolate that out for another forty years (or fifty if I am strong) I have a lot more respect for some of my older friends who can seem a little out there sometimes.