When a boomer’s dad told him, “Digital, Smidgital”

Bah, humbug. Do you hear that from baby boomers? We do … because we sometimes say it ourselves. Bah, humbug, to the digital revolution. As writer Alan Paul says, his late father might have had it right when he said, “Digital, Smidgital.”

Our children, perhaps, and their children, certainly, have no concept of just how lucky they are to be living in this era of instant informational and communicational gratification.

First office Mac

An early 1980s Apple computer.

I often say, only half-joking, that in this technologically superior age it is not only possible, but — unfortunately, I think — all too common for us to have an intimate digital relationship with someone halfway around the world, and yet never actually speak to our next-door neighbor. My own daughter, Carolyn, 29 years old now, was just entering her adolescent years as the digital environment was exploding exponentially all around her. I almost shudder to think of the astonishing technological advances that await her children and their children.

This is not all good, to be sure. Our kids and their kids (and, yes, more than a few of us) are so connected to smartphones and other “mobile devices” that I can’t help but wonder if this is something that is truly “smart.” Will we, for example, become so accustomed to relating to our ever-growing collection of digital devices that, in the very near future, we will fail, to an even greater extent than we do now, at relating to each other?

James Taylor

James Taylor

I say this, of course, as I am typing on my laptop, intermittently texting friends, listening to James Taylor on my iPod, and looking forward to streaming a movie bloated with computer-generated imagery called Pacific Rim on my 60” flat-screen TV. Have I related in the good, old-fashioned, traditional way to another human being today? Not yet. But I probably will speak with my wife Jan at some point, after I’ve recovered from my digital hangover.

Pandora's box

Pandora’s box

How do we rectify a situation in which human beings have become far too comfortable with, and reliant upon, these devices, and far less in-touch physically and emotionally with each other? I don’t think we can.

The cover of Pandora’s (not the audio streaming App, but the character from Greek mythology) Box has been ripped from its golden hinges, never to be replaced again. In reality, none of us would put it back on if we could. The only thing I will say further is this: Just because we can do something — as wonderful as it may seem — doesn’t mean we should.

Alan Paul (left) with his father in 1965.

Alan Paul (left) with his father in 1965.

I remember a conversation I had with my dear departed Dad quite a number of years ago, when my own magazine production company’s office had recently acquired its first collection of computers. After many minutes excitedly relating to him the wonders of our new computer era (although, to be clear about my limits, I still don’t understand how some humongous compilation of “ones” and “zeroes” makes it possible for me to play Real Racing 3 on my Kindle Fire), I said: “So what do you think about this digital revolution!?”

“Digital, smidgital,” he said in his inimitable way, while slowly shaking his head. “I haven’t figured out how the radio works yet.”

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