Of Paradigms and Pirates

23 May
paradigm shift keyboard

Photo credit to askpang.

The other day, I talked with coworker who is retiring after 50 years at my company.  (Can we just take a minute to revel in the fact that anyone works at a company for 50 years?  ‘Cause wow.)  We talked a lot about how computers had changed the way the company operates in so many ways, from the work that we do to the ways that we interact with each other.

She’s a very nice old lady who was trying to be positive about the changes, but I could tell that, underneath it all, she blamed computers for causing change that she couldn’t keep up with.  She said that over the years, she’s learned how to use a number of programs for work, but had never figured out the computer as a whole.  Like the way you learn to say “Una mas cervasa por favor” or “Ou et les toilettes?” when you’re traveling – you know the meaning of the phrase, but don’t necessarily understand which word is which.  For her, every new program or task was another set of memorized steps – she couldn’t get to the underlying logic of it, nothing was intuitive.

Old Car

Photo credit to Bogdan Suditu.

She said that she felt that a lot of people young people didn’t understand older people’s struggles with computers, and were impatient with them.  And said that one day we’re all going to be the old ones who don’t understand.  (Not in a “you’ll get what’s coming to you way” but in a “someday you’ll understand” way.)

And, she’s right.  I don’t understand older people’s struggles with computers.  Conceptually, I get that they struggle, but I can’t get my head around what that struggle feels like.  Is it like trying to learn a new language?  Or trying to count in base 7?  (Please tell me someone’s actually attempted that!)  I don’t understand, because I’ve never lived through a paradigm shift.

As to whether I will understand one day… I’m not sure.  She lived and worked through the digital equivalent of the industrial revolution – went from driving horses to cars.  And cars didn’t get more difficult to drive  after they were created – they got easier.  They became automatic, with power steering, and power locks, and can now give us turn by turn instructions.  (Side note: my GPS is set to talk like a pirate so it says things like “prepare to make dock and all ashore what’s goin’ ashore.”)

Born Digital

Photo credit to Diane Cordell.

I believe that technology will continue to change and that, as I age, there will be times when I find myself scratching my head.  (Maybe because my computer will have started giving my click by click directions in pirate speak…)  But, computers have gotten into my blood – somehow, I get them and I kinda think that they get me.  I’ve not a digital native, but I’m almost as good as.

If there’s another major paradigm shift in my life time, then yes, I’ll be where she is.  But, if things just keep progressing as they are – better, faster, lighter, more open – I think I’ll be fine.

Questions of the day: What’s the biggest paradigm shift that you’ve ever experienced?  Could you make the leap?  Or, are you longing for the return of the horse and buggy?


MaggieCakes is a blog about social media, marketing, culture, and what’s new on the internet written by me, Maggie O’Toole.  It’s been on a bit of a hiatus while I’ve been working on my MBA, but school’s out for the summer and the blog’s back on. Find anything interesting in the worlds of tech, culture, or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

2 Responses to “Of Paradigms and Pirates”

  1. Morgan Mussell May 23, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

    Before he retired, I had a coworker who had been a systems administrator since computers first appeared in corporate settings, and he used to say, “Computer science is one of the few areas where there is truly no such thing as ‘the good old days.'”

    He’s right! At the same time, reading of your friend, I was reminded of an old Grateful Dead lyric, “You ain’t gonna learn what you don’t wanna know.” That explains why I’ve never learned the intricacies of TV remotes.

    I was lucky, like you – I wanted to learn this stuff, and did so in a playful way, like a kid – if this doesn’t work try something else…and something else. Or as another co-worker used to say, WIDLO – meaning, “When in doubt, log out (i.e., restart).” Amazing how many times that solved a problem.

    I don’t know that there’s a single paradigm shift that was harder than any other. What creeps up on me from time to time is the need to just unplug from everything, which isn’t always easy.

  2. Marty May 24, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    It scares me a bit to admit it, but at age 53 I’m losing interest in keeping current with technology stuff.

    Transitioning at work from good old fashioned team drives to shared workspaces and dialogue threads, learning to be a creature of SFDC and Chatter, trying to figure out how to create content on an iPad, trying to teach my hand the ballet of touchscreen ‘pinch’ controls when that magical little mouse interface has served me so well for 25 years.

    Too many learning curves, none of which bringing substantial value (in the short term), and none of them having any value in sorting out the things that really are important to me now.

    And few things work as cleanly as promoted. Too complicated, too clever. When something doesn’t work as I expect I have the added struggle of trying to decide if I’m making a dumb mistake — or if the manufacturer spent more time on their marketing campaign than on debugging as they rushed their newest crap to market.

    Besides that, technology ‘advances’ and learning curves make my wife crazy — and she pulls me into her personal computer dramas. If Momma’s not happy…

    Save me a spot in the dinosaur zoo. I’ll be checking in there about ten years.

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