“Come over to my place and check out our new computer,” Mike said.
“OK,” was my typical answer.
Mike was the first person I knew to own a personal computer. This was the technological stone ages of the early eighties.
“Isn’t it cool!?” he exclaimed with nerdy enthusiasm.
“Yeah, sure is…” trying to muster up as much fake enthusiasm as I could.
All I saw was a really dull looking computer screen, of light green on dark green, with a flashing square cursor. As a Gen X kid of 16, well before I knew the slightest thing about computers, I could not have been more unimpressed. Yet he and his brothers were gathered around the thing like a scene from the forties where families would gather around some giant radio in the living room to catch up with the news of the world. Mike was my friend – still is – and I love him dearly but I did not share his enthusiasm for the thing in the slightest.
I managed to avoid computers for another 6 years or so until I made it to university in a Bachelor of Commerce program. I remember the professor having the same sort of enthusiasm and it seemed like just about every other student in that class was some sort of computer nerd that would freebase these ancient monochrome machines like some sort of weird addiction. I felt totally screwed that first class…and I was. It was way over my head but I somehow managed to pass the class but just barely.
I clawed and scraped my way through university and finally ended up with a degree. Finally, I could get out there and start working full-time. I was adamant on getting a bachelor’s of something before starting to work full-time.
When I got into the work world, my first job was in customer service, where I would spend day after day sitting in front of an ugly relic of light green on dark green WANG computer. It’s like the ugly green screens were ghosts that wouldn’t leave me alone, haunting and terrorizing me, and threatening my sanity. Ok, yeah, just a little poetic license there for some exaggerated hyperbole.
After four years as a Customer Service rep, I ended up going out on the road as an account rep. In those days, everything was paper, pen and faxes…and ooh!, I had a pager. But I managed to escape the grip of the ugly green screen. Towards the late nineties, some four years into my career as an outside sales rep, management starting talking about automating the sales force, which meant buying us all laptops and making us use a CRM tool. Back then, CRM was totally new to the business world, unlike now where Salesforce, Hubspot, and other similar programs basically rule the world.
I liked being a sales rep and I was keen to learn as much as I could about our impending tech based sales roles, so I enrolled in a Windows 95 night class at the local college. Funny enough, some of the tips and tricks that I learned in that class, I still use today. When I was done with that class, I thought it best to learn how to type. Hunting and pecking would seriously dampen my productivity if I was to live on by the laptop.
One day, while wasting time in a Future Shop (now part of Best Buy), I spotted a CD that promised to teach even the must fumbling novice typist how to type. I was skeptical but the CD really didn’t cost much so I took a chance. What a great decision that turned out to be. I loved that program. It taught you to type by playing video games. I had to type out words to shoot down invading aliens or make a frog jump across water lilies in a pond before being eaten by prey. It was so much fun and really taught me how to type. Nowadays, I can type around 45 words per minute, which is pretty good for a former hunt and peck typist that used to get his girlfriend to type out reports in school and later for work. I love the feeling of being self-sufficient at something I used to be totally hopeless at. Too bad I waited until my mid-thirties to learn how to type.
Anyways, we got our laptops and our first cell phones. Little did I know at the time, my fate was sealed because for the past twenty-two years, I’ve lived on a laptop and a cell phone. Around the early part of 2003, I started taking night classes again. By then I had moved to Ottawa, Ontario (where I live to this day) so I enrolled at Algonquin College in the Microcomputer Support Specialist program – part-time adult education certificate. What a great school and what a great program. I really didn’t need to learn computers at the level but am I ever glad I did. I learned the basics of the binary number system, file management, early HTML coding basics, in-depth lessons in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Sadly, I didn’t complete the program but took enough classes to really get a strong foundation in technology. I hardly ever have to deal with any IT person and I consider myself now to be one of the most tech savvy of anyone I know.
Just recently, well into my fifties, I completed a Digital Marketing Certificate from the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management. Talk about taking this tech thing seriously. In my work, I am constantly dealing with computer based technology so having a solid technology background has been and continues to be very beneficial.
But even still, the pace of change in the Tech world is overwhelming and I too sometimes struggle with it. I feel sad for my mother, who in her late eighties, finds technology perplexing and very frustrating. She struggles with cordless phones, her cell phone that she no longer owns, her laptop, her entertainment machines and so on. I imagine it’s a similar story for many other people her age.
Her generation completely missed that tech wave and many of them find today’s modern gadgets completely foreign. It’s a real challenge for many of our elderly citizens and it further compounds the feeling of loneliness and helplessness I believe many of them feel. If our governments truly care about our seniors, they should make tech training free and much more accessible to them. Banks, insurance companies, utility companies, cable companies, stores, etc. should be more compassionate to the tech plight of our seniors and understand that many of them don’t feel comfortable enough to transact with them online, or even know how to do so.
Like many things, tech can bring people together but can also drive them apart. It takes time, money, effort and resources to learn and keep up with tech. It also takes the desire to invest all of this effort into it as well. Society in general needs to be more understanding that not everybody has the ability or will to learn technology. And as in the case of our seniors, not everyone can relate well enough with it to learn to use it proficiently enough to use it as a daily tool that so many of us take for granted.