Fifty-two years: Technology, social media, and me (and you)


Fifty-two years: Technology, social media, and me (and you)

I turned 52 today; I’ve seen over a half century of some of the most amazing changes in our world.

Aviva got me this great cake for my birthday

Red velvet cake with butter cream icing - yummy!

I remember when we started locking our outside doors … when I was 6. Milk and potato chips were delivered to our basement door every week. There was no voice mail or answering machines or call waiting – if you weren’t there when the phone rang, you didn’t know you’d missed anything, and you wouldn’t think to interrupt a phone call unless it was an emergency. And we drank Coca-Cola – not Diet Coke or Coke Classic, there was only Coca-Cola, “and we liked it like that.”

I remember when a backhoe arrived to dig a slot in our front yard for city water – we had well water until I was a teenager, and it just worked, it tasted fine (it was pretty much all we knew after all) and we didn’t get sick from it. City water tasted a little strange but we also didn’t get sick from that; of course we had to pay a fee for that “improved” water (and associated sewer service – we had a septic tank until then). I’m reminded of the wonderful Lewis Black monologue on milk and water.

Take advantage of the time-shifting ability of technology

I remember when we built our first home computer as a teenager; when I was 6, my dad took me to a CDC installation in Rockville, MD; he had the teletype print out various ASCII art, including a nude woman sitting on a stool – that one got him in trouble with my mom, but they let me keep it.  I visited that site again while I was in college during a co-op position with a small consulting firm to convert an old magnetic tape to a more modern format – that was the only site on the eastern seaboard that had an old enough OS running to read the tape (shades of Word V. 2). And I remember going online with CompuServe on my Atari ST, meeting people and working out problems together. And today I put a computer much more powerful than that first one my dad and I built into my pocket, and it’s connected to the world.

When I was young, the world was small – it was a big deal to drive into Washington, D.C. from our home outside Vienna, VA, a trip that could take 30 minutes. I remember flying to Saudi Arabia in 1984 for 3 months of work, and realizing how insular my life had been up to that time; on the way out I stopped in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and learned that there’s a lot of cultural choice out there (and that flight delays can wreak havoc on connecting flights).

Now, the world is flatter and smaller than it’s ever been – I remember in the ’80s emailing with a fellow who was interested in some customizations a friend in London and I (I was in Chicago) were doing to Lucid Emacs. At the end of his email, he asked me to wish him luck. I checked his domain, he was from the old Soviet Union and this was the first day of the attempted coup against Gorbachev. I wished him luck (and checked in with him after the coup failed), and realized that I’d found a way to connect with people all over the world, and didn’t have to fly to do it.  I now work daily with people who live in Chennai, India, and I have friends in Amsterdam that I made during many, many trips to that city for work.

Technology has made us more available to each other, and has made us available to people who, just two decades ago, we never would have met. I think this is amazing.

Folks complain about social media taking up too much time and being irrelevant – I disagree on both counts.

And people decry technology as stepping into our lives too much – if you feel this way, then you are allowing it.

Turn stuff off. Go see a movie. Hit the beach and wade up to your waist. Take time out to connect with, and in, the physical world. For me, I tweet less on the weekend so I can spend more time with my spouse and dogs. I spend a lot of my own computer time in between other things, or very early in the morning when I’m the only mouse in the house.

Use social media to connect with people you like or need, especially folks that live too far away to visit regularly. My son and I follow each other on Twitter, for example, and my sister and I watch each others walls on Facebook. I made a friend on Twitter (well, I feel I’ve made many friends on Twitter) who I’ve never met who lived in Tucson and now lives in the great northwest (rain much?:-)); I may never meet her in person but I’ve at least had the pleasure of knowing her – 30 years ago it’s unlikely we’d have met. Social media provides an improved way for me to keep up with the people I’ve met all over the world.

Don’t be rude – technology may appear to give us a bye on interrupting others, but it does not. If you must take a call during a conversation, step back and make it brief. Give real life interactions preference over online interactions; you can’t time-shift real life.

Take advantage of the time-shifting ability of technology – you can tweet a response in the morning and the other person will get it, leave a wall post and check later to see the response. Unless you’re trying to close a business deal, the message can probably wait a few hours (hey, I remember when we wrote those things called letters….).

And one more thing – for those of you too young to remember these changes, keep in mind that some of us have a passion for keeping up with the swirling changes in our culture and tools; don’t automatically assume that someone with grey hair doesn’t “get it.” Our connection with our past can provide a path to our future, a way to bring people along to new ways of working and thinking.

Ars longa, vita brevis – make sure to use the time you have on this mortal coil in ways that make you as happy as you can be.

And a big thank you to all the kind birthday messages from my friends all over the world!


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One Comment

  1. Jeff
    7:53 am on July 5th, 2011

    Hi Bob,
    Hope you had a terrific birthday and holiday weekend. It’s posts like this that remind me what a smart, lucid guy you are and I am glad we had a chance to get to know one another – from profound conversations about communication and leadership to driving our colleagues insane communicating only in song lyrics. Best to Aviva and the pups and have a good week –


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