New Technology: It's to be welcomed, not faced with trepidation

We shouldn’t fear electronic instruments for their unfamiliarity. We should embrace them for their simplicity of use and power to inform and improve.

A couple of years ago I asked my 32-year-old son if he would help me burn a music playlist onto a CD. He replied, “Sure, Dad. And right after that we can powder our wigs.”

One of my all-time favorite commercials (I can’t even remember what they were advertising) showed an older couple warmly welcoming two grandkids to their home (“How lovely to see you!”), and then immediately handing them armloads of electronics. Grandma said, “None of this works.”

So, why do some older folks think of technology as being for the young? Or assume that we can’t understand it, and so avoid it and fall behind the rest of the world?

What’s in the way?

I’ve readily embraced computing (which for work is a necessity). I’ve adopted smartphone technology, bought an e-book reader, and recently started streaming music with wireless speakers. But I’ve tended to be slow at accepting certain changes, like switching from satellite TV to one of the online services such as Hulu or Google TV.

It’s largely about fear of the unknown. But why? My experience with technologies and devices is that once you dive in, they are incredibly easy to learn and use. Or as the old ads for Canon automatic digital cameras used to say, “So advanced, it’s simple.” A brother who works in medical software says that’s by necessity; companies like his make the basic functions extremely simple, because otherwise people will turn away.

When I bought my first iPhone, I left the store thinking, “Now comes a three-hour session with the user manual.” That never happened. I got the device home and just started using it. It was that easy. Granted, I’d had a little experience with a BlackBerry, but still, the fundamentals of operation, though different, were extremely intuitive.

The work world

It’s pretty much the same with electronic devices we use at work. Technology in the water and wastewater sector becomes more pervasive every year. It brings new ways to save energy, save time, improve performance, fine-tune maintenance, facilitate permit compliance and more.

And it doesn’t have to be the province of younger operators. Many people in the water sector have 20, 30, 40 or more years of experience. Mostly what technology means is better, faster, cheaper, easier ways of doing things we’ve always done. Or ways of doing things never previously possible.

For example, just today I received news about a technology that lets operators connect a smartphone to view a sample of mixed liquor and send pictures of bacteria for analysis, thus getting a near-instant evaluation of plant conditions by way of artificial intelligence.

What, me worry?

That sounds like something I would initially be scared of: Surely it’s not that easy. Surely I would find a way to mess it up. In all likelihood, those fears would turn out to be unfounded. So why should I let fear stand in the way. For that matter, why should you?

I think we need to start treating fear of technology like the monster that, as kids, we were certain hung out under our bed or in the closet at night. As in, he’s not really there. So why be afraid? Just resolve to grab that technology, learn it, get it to work, and make your life on the job better as a result.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to order up that new high-speed internet service, ditch the satellite, and get started with online TV. That’s right, I’m terrified.   


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