WALLY’S WORLD: Technology tests the generational divide

  • Tuesday, October 20, 2009 2:55pm
  • Opinion

By Wally DuChateau

Though many of you may find it hard to believe, I learned to type on a manual typewriter. This was back in the Fred Flintstone era, when secretaries still used “white out” to correct errors and consulted a dictionary to verify spelling. Business executives often flew halfway around the world because graphs and charts were too complex to be explained on the phone and it took three or four days for such material to be sent and returned in the U.S. mail.

My friends, the revolutionary consequences of the microchip have been so awesome and swift, those of us older than, say 40, are only now beginning to fully grasp what has happened. The computer has produced a society so radically different – economically, psychologically and socially – it will leave many older adults lost and discarded, just so much waste in a wireless world they were unprepared for.

There have always been “gaps” in the abilities and ideas between parents and their children. In the 1920s, the Lost Generation was “shockingly” different from their parents. In the 1950s, it was the Beat Generation. In the ‘60s, the Now Generation. But these generational gaps were largely, though not entirely, a matter of morality, especially sexual behavior and artistic innovation in various schools of music, literature and painting.

Well, this sexual and artistic rebellion is finally over. The revolutionary tsunami inundating the modern world is much more profound than that. This time it’s an economic and technological shift that may be even more significant than the Industrial Revolution (1850 to 1900).

Today, the speed at which transactions and analysis can be completed is enough to boggle the fragile psychic of this muddleheaded writer. Large complex mathematical models and massive amounts of experimental data that would formerly take several months to decipher can now be accomplished instantaneously, merely with the touch of a button. The speed at which scientific innovations will be produced and, consequently, the actual number of innovations, will disrupt much of the world’s economy.

Entire classes of people are being tossed aside; i.e., assembly line workers, computer illiterates, labor unions and many small business, particularly small cement and mortar stores that will be squeezed out by the Internet. Those older than 50 will be especially hard hit. Their savings and retirement plans are being decimated.

During this restructuring, America’s unemployment rate will remain high, even if the economy is humming along quite nicely, simply because fewer workers are needed. To an astounding degree, much of the economy will be operated by autonomous robots and cyborgs. If you don’t believe that, just try to talk with a “real” person when you phone Bank of America or DirecTV or the IRS.

From time to time I check out the CSI shows on TV. Their computers and labs appear to be on technology’s cutting edge. Indeed, some of them get so far out one has to question their authenticity.

For instance, the other night I watched an “NCIS” offering. The suspect under investigation had 10 stolen cell-phones, each with its own number. The federal cops wanted to know if any of those phones had placed a call from a specific location a few weeks earlier. A couple keys were punched. Click-a-de-clack. In less than five seconds they had the answer.

Really? Perhaps it’s just my anachronistic mentality, but I have to ask: Can our best, high-powered, modern technology even do that? And, if it can, is it really that fast?

Just wondering, that’s all.

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