Techno-terror bites

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Laptops and netbooks and tablets, oh my!

By John Pawlak

A tsunami is an onslaught of waves generated in any large body of water by an earthquake, volcanic eruption, or some other cataclysmic disturbance.  Drop a large enough object into the Atlantic Ocean and you would generate a tsunami (maybe we could toss Washington D.C. in just to test this out?).
Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are indeed disturbances, especially if one occurs while you’re trying to get some sleep.  For that matter, anything that disrupts our day-to-day activities is a disturbance, and what better example of seismic societal awakening than that of technology?
The past decades have been an interesting ride.  As a child, our home phone was a party line (lots of fun for snoopy children), alarm clocks had to be wound, and owning a 45 meant a record, not a gun.  
Our television (it was normal to have only one) was black and white, had about five working channels, and you had to walk up to it and turn a knob to change the channel.  I was amazed when transistor radios first came out, a radio you could hold in your hand.  
Then audio cassettes arrived and the music industry changed forever.  Stereo components, phone answering machines, halogen lamps, acrylic paint, astroturf, barcode scanners - we didn’t realize it then, but we were riding a technology wave, one whose size would eventually stagger the imagination.
Within a few decades, VCRs had invaded our living rooms (along with the dreaded blinking 12:00).  Microwave ovens, hand-held camcorders, pocket voice recorders, and a host of gadgets for geeks redefined our lives with simple words like smaller, faster, cheaper, and the ubiquitous “high tech”.  VHS, CBs, ATMs, PDAs, CDs, DVDs, LCDs, CRTs, HDTV, AI - a host of acronyms ebbed its way into daily language.
Then in crept the Internet.  The net, the web, cyberspace, the world wide web, the information highway.  As we adapted to this new surf, our vocabulary was again redefined.  
We now spoke of browsers, domains, cookies, gateways, newsgroups, search engines, firewalls, spam, and trojan horses.  We downloaded, we pinged, we proxied, we posted.
The techno-wave began to outpace our lives.  Cell phones are ubiquitous, equipped with still and video cameras (a guy can’t even streak in public anymore without the risk of having his tush on YouTube).  Calculators do our arithmetic and word processors chek our spelin.  We shop online, work online, play online, date online, text our daily activities to the world and broadcast our lives on FaceBook.  
We morph into avatars, blab on blogs, run our applets, twitter our friends, and friend strangers.
Our world is infested with blackberries, smart phones, wireless internet, wikis, iPods and iPads, laptops, netbooks, tablets, ereaders - a digital onslaught of productivity tools guaranteed to slow you down to a standstill.  This seismic eruption of technology seems to be consuming us and we find ourselves watching the approaching tsunami with fear that it will consume what little is left of individuality and reason.  
No, no, that’s not quite right.  Let me correct that statement.  
The “we” who are experiencing techno-terror are us adults.  The world of youth friends itself, googles, wikis, gmails, blogs, plays Farmville, and proudly admits to being a tweetaholics.
But here’s the real kicker.  As that technology tsunami threatens to engulf us, we adults are grabbing our analog stability, our wind-up alarm clocks, our chalk boards and our VCRs with the time still blinking 12:00, and we are running to high ground for safety.  And our children?  
They’re diving into the swirling waters and swimming out toward the tsunami!  Kids embrace the technology and have integrated it into their DNA makeup.
They can’t add fractions or distinguish “you’re” from “your”, but they merrily push those buttons and watch the lights blink.  
The disparity between adult technophobia and teenage techno-addiction is a marvel of social evolution (or is this de-evolution?).
What’s my point?  I have no point.  I just like to digress.  I do plan on writing more about technology, especially its use (or lack of) in the educational environment.  Until then, blog on and may the technology be with you!

 John Pawlak
Los Alamos columnist