Wk 12: I’m So Tired – Digital fatigue and retirement

"This Angry Birds game is brilliant!"

When I was young, I would program the VCR for my family home. I don’t think this was a rare occurrence. Most kids I know were better than their parents at it. They were old and didn’t understand how these new machines work.

Years later, I realised that I didn’t know how to tune a VCR anymore. The technology passed me by. I would sit there holding a tune button on the player. But now it was on the remote. And little cousins of mine were better than it than me.

For years this thought has haunted me ever since.

What if technology passes me by completely? How do I stop it?

The idea of “digital retirement” is taking, ironically, some strides in my life. Having just turned 30, many of my friends are wary and against Twitter. They just don’t ‘get’ it.

What is annoying is the arrogance of this statement. It’s almost as if they’re saying “Hmmm, I think the world is wrong on this one.” When the opposite is true. It is the point where you have retired from the digital world.

How does this happen?

There’s a Douglas Adams quote that is often used out of context:

– Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

– Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

– Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Adams used this in a piece about technology, and the DANGERS of perceiving things as wrong or weird just because you happen to be born at the wrong time for it.

But there is a deeper reason tied to another old quote.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

My problem with the VCR came because I already learnt how to program a VCR. And it is harder to forget something than it is to learn something.

Most people I’ve spoken to will not get a different phone from an iPhone on their next upgrade. The main reason seems to be – I can’t go back. Regardless on where you stand on the iPhone, learning a whole new mobile operating system is a pain. I was once given a Sony Ericsson phone for free, with a camera. And kept my old two colour camera-less Nokia because it was too hard to learn a new thing.

This is an important side point. People can get stuck in their ways. Apple has gotten there first with the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Yet they struggled for decades against Windows because who could be bothered learning a whole new operating system? The digital world – although ever changing – is ruled by habit.

The other great example is when Facebook changes anything. Oh the complaints.

But the world is going to change with or without you. And pretty soon the technology and networks that support my old Nokia (let alone that sized sim card) will be gone completely. Do I rally against the future? Is it against the natural order of things?

If there is such a thing as “digital retirement”, something I personally want to avoid at all costs, then it comes from “digital fatigue”. That all this new technology is getting too much. And technology just grows faster and faster.

So, the way to defeat it might be the thing that keeps normal retirement and fatigue at bay.

Exercise.

Try new things. Keep active in the digital space. Try out new things. Get the blood flowing in those muscles.

The people I’ve met who I think are the best thinkers, and are ahead of the game, are naturally curious. And they have dozens of logins to try out every new service they hear about. And they don’t always understand them, but who does.

You don’t have to love it – the general opinion of chatroulette was that it was crap and a fad. Most people agreed, but who actually tried it?

It’s that attitude I love – constant discovery.

I am still excited by new technology all the time. I don’t always understand it, but I don’t understand all new music either.

What I am worried about, is if I ever get to the point where I say “I don’t get it”. If I hate it – fine. If I don’t even understand, that’s a worry.

Once again – take Twitter. We all knew that the first people to hop onto that would be those with the most free time and the least to say. We saw that with mIRC. Then with forums. Then on MySpace and Facebook. But those who never thought any of those things were worth their time were never going to ‘get’ Twitter.

I wonder what Albert Einstein would make of an iPad. Would he “get” it? I know my parents are amazed I have a French dictionary on my phone. Maybe he wouldn’t understand it – but he would understand it’s usefulness – maybe? Or maybe it would be too much for him.

But that retirement is bound to happen to me. And in a way, I’m looking forward to that too. I love tech, digital and inventions. That in my lifetime there may be something so new, so different that my mind just gives up on it – that’s exciting.

Until then, there is so much to explore. And to explore FOR THE SAKE OF EXPLORING.

Travel keeps you young, they say. And adventures in new digital technology can keep digital retirement at bay too.

30 for 30: Douglas Adams

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

28. DOUGLAS ADAMS

Douglas Adams

I adore the works of Douglas Adams, and the man himself.

This 30 for 30 thing would not exist if not for Douglas Adams.

It was a thoroughly Douglas Adams moment in my life too. I was at my parents house, ready to leave for Paris for the first time. I was thinking, I need to buy The Salmon of Doubt, the posthumous collection of Adams’ writings found on his computer.

I had yet to read it, even though I was a huge fan (it was, after all, promoted as an unfinished novel. Who wants that?). So I decided I would rummage another book out of the boxes I had in my parents garage.

And there it was – a copy of The Salmon Of Doubt.

A perfect, unread, 1st edition paperback.

How?

I’m not the kind of person who buys something and doesn’t know it. No price tag marks of any sort to suggest it’s origin. No one else in my family would have bought it. It wasn’t even amongst the other books in “A”. It was in a completely random box – the first one I looked at. And I was just thinking about it.

The only Adams-esque explanation is this – The Salmon of Doubt has become a very important book in my life. It started on that day. And some time in the future, I will come across a pristine paperback 1st edition. And a wormhole. And I will know to throw the book into the wormhole, leading back to my parents garage circa 1996, ready for my 25 year old self to discover.

(Slightly odder still is I have no idea where the book is. I’m even less inclined to lose things)

As far as I’m concerned with things related to Douglas Adams, the most extraordinary explanation must be the one.

The Salmon of Doubt is not usually considered the most inspiring work by Adams. But, along with half a novel, there are a series of random writings. Wonderfully written, long rambling essays about certain subjects.

I remember reading these articles and thinking – this is exactly what blogs should be. Long, meaty, well written, point driven pieces. Adams jumps around and goes on tangents, always circling the same points. He usually write about technology too – something I love.

So since that time, I have been trying to write blog posts like Adams’ writings in The Salmon Of Doubt. If you are interested in reading a really great essay (Hooray! Essays!) you can find some on his site, and I would start with Frank the Vandal (http://www.douglasadams.com/dna/980707-00-a.html)

I discovered Adams through the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, much like everybody else. I’m guessing this was around age 11, and I was already discovering Monty Python, Red Dwarf and various absurd British comedies. I found it at Campsie Library, when I was devouring so many books. Then I found all it’s sequels – and loved them too.

Those books were, of course, and marvellously, surrounded by Adams’ other works. First was the Dirk Gently books, which I also loved – and the BBC have just announced they will finally make TV adaptations of the two novels. The Meaning Of Liff and the Deeper Meaning Of Liff – a dictionary for things that needed names.

Then there’s the one non-fiction book – Last Chance To See.

I absorbed it all. And I am not the only one. Every time I see the phrase ‘Don’t Panic’, I think of Adams. And ‘42’, yet another Adamsism that has broken through to the mainstream. The glorious Babel Fish. His popularity has never waned.

Hitchhiker’s is, of course, awesome. It is such a deep reflection on the interests of Douglas Adams as well.

I read and re-read the first four books many times. I waited patiently on the library waiting list to read the fifth book – Mostly Harmless. I bought a collection of the first four books, and I eventually found first edition paperback copies of all of them – going for almost £40 each now.

Around that time, the ABC screened the 1981 BBC TV version. Even better was the South Bank show special – a very absurdist take on Adams’ life story, intercut with recreated scenes from his novel. It’s the only time I’m aware that Dirk Gently has been portrayed onscreen.

It was easy to keep track of Adams’ works, because he was almost always first in the sci-fi books section. New stuff stood out. The ridiculous Illustrated Version to the weird and underwhelming Starship Titanic.

I kind of lost track of Adams’ by the time he died in 2001. Although I was really sad – I guess I was at an emotional age about my heroes.

One of the last things Adams worked on was to make the Hitchhiker’s movie. After mulling over a film version for decades, it finally happened in 2005.

I remember seeing it at the cinemas, and loving it. Even with the 1981 TV version, it felt like they mostly got what I imagined the book would look like.

The movie had some major flaws – it’s rambling plotline is just almost impossible to shoehorn into a movie. The wit in Adams’ narrative is missing. It seems they spent all the special effects money went to the last 30 minutes of the film.

But there were lots to love. The cast was mostly perfect. Martin Freeman – the man was made to play this role. Zooey Deschanel is great as usual. Sam Rockwell made a great Zaphod, except no-one’s managed to get the two heads thing right.

And it looked great. The Vogons were perfect. The showroom of planets is honestly breathtaking. In the end, they just nailed the strange humour, and lost none of the heart in the characters. And just that big screen feel. After 15 years and seeing that – it was amazing.

No one’s discussed a sequel, even though the movie made plenty of money. I would love to see it. A hundred scenes I would love to see. Milliways. The krikkitmen at Lords. And most importantly, Arthur and Fenchurch flying over London.

Maybe someone will reboot them again one day. It seems to be the trend. Special effects just get cheaper, and maybe we can get something that looks like the Harry Potter films, and a commitment to make all of them.

More than his work, I love Douglas Adams the person. It’s a side I first got to see when I read Last Chance To See. It’s a non fiction book, an account of Adams’ adventures with zoologist Mark Carwardine, searching for the planets most endangered and rare species. I didn’t finish it the first time, but years later returned to it and loved it.

Adams’ fell in love with these bizarre animals. In fact, they didn’t seem that far from Babel Fish and other weird creatures that came out of Adams’ imagination. In the book, he describes them like he would a Vogon. And he never loss his passion for protecting life on the planet.

In 2009, his good friend Stephen Fry recreated his journey with Carwardine for BBC2. The sequel, also called Last Chance To See, finally showed me a moving Kakapo. And great that this side of Adams’ legacy is getting it’s day in the sun. If he had lived, maybe he could have been a animal lover version of Michael Palin.

For me, it showed me that the amazing things I found in books were equal if not less than the amazing things you can see in life.

Adams had many other passions too. He was a big Beatles fanatic. He hung out with rock stars like Dave Gilmour and was one of the few outsiders in the Monty Python inner circle. He was an outspoken atheist before it became fashionable. He made a short but significant impact on Doctor Who.

He was also a Mac enthusiast, and a technology nut. He understood programming language, energy technology and computer science. According to Stephen Fry, Adams was the first person in the UK to own an Apple computer.

Adams loved technology. He loved the internet. He dabbled in video games in the mid 80s, and supported the advancement for technology. And for technology’s sake. He didn’t just love typing, or games, or graphics. He loved that these devices and how they can fit into our lives.

Imagine what Adams would make of the world today. He loved the internet, and prophesised we would live our lives on there. A comment that mirrors a line in the 2010 movie the Social Network. Imagine what Adams would make of Facebook.

Best still is the iPad. Let’s face it. It’s essentially the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy come to life.

Adams has a theory about progress, that works in three parts.

1) Everything that exists before you’re born is “normal”.

2) Anything created between ages 0-30 is very exciting, and hopefully you can make a living out of it.

3) Anything created after 30 is abnormal, abhorrent and against nature.

So it’s only an age thing that makes us scared of progress of technology (or movies, or music etc). And when new things occur in technology, I think of Adams, always pushing ahead to the front of the line to see what was happening. I hope I can be there too.

May 25th of every year is now Towel Day. It’s a celebration of Adams, of Hitchhiker’s and his other works. It takes his name and inspiration from, in the Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy world, the single most useful device ever – a towel. I’m aware of it every year, but I’ve not been brave enough to carry a towel with me in public.

But its’ something that is growing. A UK thing that is spreading out slowly to dozens of countries around the world, according to towelday.org. It’s yet another sign of how important and ahead of his time Adams was.

If you only know Adams for his sci fi humour, here is a great introduction to his activism.