“Life was better before Google Maps” and other fallacies of anti-tech nostalgia

It’s been said that we are always sceptical about things invented after we are 35. That contrasts with things invented when we are 15-35 which we embrace and sometimes make a career out of, and things invented before we are 15 which are so normal so as to be unremarkable. So the internet feels dangerous to my parents, was a career opportunity for me, and is so normal for my kids that their first words might have been “Ask Google”.

The result of this truism is that people are starting feeling isolated, out of date and old before their time. A number of my 41 year old school and university friends have side-stepped social media altogether and it is likely they will now never feel at home in online public forums. Most of them will live for another forty years, missing out. Moreover, as the pace of change comes faster and faster more and more of the best things in life will have been invented in the last ten or twenty years. If this goes on these ‘best things’ will be lost to the older half of the population who will end up having almost nothing to talk about with their younger counterparts.

Part of the reason over 35s don’t adopt new technologies is that they romanticise their pasts. I’m writing this today having just read a brilliant essay by Andrew O’Hagan titled In defense of technology.

He begins by lampooning himself in an imaginary conversation with his daughter which illustrates the point that new technologies have made our lives better:

My daughter rolls her eyes whenever I begin my stories of woe. “Here he goes,” she says. “Tell the one about how you used to walk to school alone. And the other one, about how you had to remember people’s phone numbers! And: Watch this. Dad, tell the one about how you used to swim outside, like in a pond or something. With frogs in it!”

“You know, darling. It wasn’t so long ago. And it wasn’t such a hardship either. There was actually something quite pleasant about, say, getting lost as you walked in a city, without immediately resorting to Google Maps.”

“As if!”

Then he goes on to make the point that believing in a better future is also to admit the possibility that the past wasn’t that great – and with that comes much mental unpleasantness. It is your past and my past that we are talking about, the pasts that we created. If those pasts weren’t great then then maybe we weren’t great either. Much easier to romanticise the past than to allow that thought to roam around our minds. And to romanticise the past we must discount the future.

New technologies are hard to adopt. Social media creates all sorts of new ways to make embarrassing social gaffs and silly mistakes as you climb the learning curve, a learning curve that you may never conquer. Couple that with an over-rosy recollection of the good old days and it’s easy to see why people get sceptical and refuse to adopt. Then, once they are on the outside, the scepticism hardens.

Not a good thing.

I don’t have any answers beyond a recommendation to stay open minded and a personal commitment to staying objective about the pros and cons of changes as they emerge (and there are always pros AND cons). I am genuinely worried for some of my contemporaries though, as without change this problem is set to get worse, not better.

If you’ve got this far do go and read O’Hagan’s essay. It is beautifully written and laugh out loud funny.

  • Holiday in Dartmoor

    Cool post, again. I’m same age and background and have a similar experience with my contemporaries. Ego and status built in the stability of the 20th century schooling system is being very quickly dismantled at the beginning of the 21st. There’s a great letter by Ted Hughes to his son (included in the letters book your portfolio company published) about how we develop armour around about the age of seven. Strip off the armour even if it scares the crap out of you! J

  • http://www.theequitykicker.com brisbourne

    🙂 Maybe that’s it. Do something that scares you every day, to quote Eleanour Roosevelt (I think)

  • MetroAndroid

    I tend to see the opposite extreme. So many young/intellectual people I see hate the Modern Age and think the past is much better. They think that things were better in the past and that there hasn’t been rampant materialism for thousands of years. Basically, they’ve internalized this concept of “our world is shit, and there’s nothing we can do about it” rather than recognizing that statistically/logically speaking, nearly all, if not all violent crime is at a low; global health is at an all time high; birth rates are declining to stable levels in advanced countries; developing countries are doing just that with the help of philanthropists (Bill Gates can turn poo into water/electricity). There has never been a better time to be alive; however, that doesn’t mean I don’t respect the past. I understand that you can’t take 2000 years and say people during those times are wrong for not being the 2001st.