Youre feeling like you are being left behind because you are being left behind.
I came up with that pithy phrase because I thought my imagination was running away with me. As in the phrase, Just because you feel paranoid doesnt mean you have nothing to be paranoid about, feeling left behind is not my imagination taking over.
Im being left behind by technology. Almost every day, I fight the fear of being the old stodgy fellow who cant operate a TV remote. And almost every day, I get closer to being that guy.
This is worrisome because Ive always considered myself a semi-geek. I was on top of all the cutting edge technology. Im an early adopter. When the iPhone was released in 2007, I had one. Im now on version 5. But ask me if I understand all the apps on my phone and Id have to say no.
The other evening on NPR, I was listening to a TED Talk featuring Andrew McAfee, from the Sloan School of Management at MIT. To paraphrase the point of his talk, Do We Need Humans? he said that todays technology is changing the world like no other event before it -- not the advent of religion, the Renaissance, conquering nations or world wars. He said those events didnt come close to being the game changer technology has become in bending civilization.
McAfee went on to point out that very soon, probably in less time than we can all imagine, robots will be able to accomplish many of the tasks people like you and me struggle through today.
The weird, McAfee said, becomes the normal with remarkable speed these days. ... If you look around at the economy, you start to see a lot of jobs that are squarely in the sights of the machines of today and tomorrow.
You see, theres reason for my paranoia. I started to mentally examine how my job has changed in the past two decades. I started out standing over a layout board cutting and pasting newspaper pages together. Putting a picture on a page was a long, drawn out, painful process. Now, instead of assembling the page by hand, its all on a computer screen. Putting in a picture, now digitally, is a snap. With the press of a button, the page is sent at light speed to our computer servers in North Carolina, from there, at the same speed, to our printing contractor in Atlanta. Shazaam! Its on your doorstep, on your driveway or in your paper chute by 6 a.m.
The newspaper industry is but one of thousands of industries that have been utterly transformed by technology. How many telephone operators do we have now? Receptionists in some businesses are a thing of the past. What about the robots that populate automotive assembly lines? And how about the hurt e-mail has put on the U.S. Postal Service? What about bank tellers? Have the ATMs won? And how hard is it to get a human on the line in almost any business? Even the robo-calls we all receive are sounding remarkably ... human.
Several years ago, Mercer Universitys then-president, Dr. Kirby Godsey, in a speech to Golden Eagle contestants at Wesleyan College, spoke of the ever-expanding sum of human knowledge and how it took centuries to double in some cases. Now that doubling is happening in a matter of months, and I can see change happening before my eyes. And its become a blur.
I see children pick up a smartphone and navigate as if it were hot-wired directly to their brains. While I can operate my i-Phone just fine, I cant do what they can do instinctively.
Like many of you, Im fighting to keep up, to stay relevant, to be up to date -- but its getting harder and harder as technological advances shift to warp speed. There is so much information out there, keeping up is a full-time job.
I want to be one of those boomers Time magazines Joel Stein wrote about in his 2012 piece, I Hope I Die Before I Have to Live with Old People, where he posits that boomers are just as annoying as they get older as they were in their 20s. My fear is that Ill need a lot of technological help to be that annoying. My grandchildren already think they can mentally run circles around me. So far, theyve been wrong and I plan to keep it that way.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraphs editorial page editor. He can be reached at (478)744-4342 or via e-mail at email@example.com. Tweet @crichard1020.