For the past few weeks I’ve been laboring away on an area that I’ve dabbled in most of my life. Computers. Specifically, computer networking and infrastructure. I often feel that when it comes to interests, I can only have a few that are technologically driven. There is always something new to learn, always something that becomes obsolete in months. How does one keep up when technology changes daily? At some point you have to learn to tune things out.
Just like it’s easy to become overwhelmed by how time-consuming social networks like Facebook and Twitter can be, so too is technology in general. I got the iPad 3 (aka The New iPad) when it came out and in a largely marketing decision that would impact the devices owners, Apple decided less than a year after its release to discontinue it for a newer only slightly improved iPad 4. There was nothing wrong with the iPad 3. However, in order to sell more of the newer model, in one swoop, Apple pulled The New iPad and left its predecessor on the market so that there was a more noticeable distinction between the 2 and the 4. Did you get all of that? Really, not only does one have to juggle comprehending the “under the hood” changes of each model, you must also attempt to understand why something you bought six months ago has been arbitrarily taken off the market.
In my day job I wear a number of hats. The most challenging has, and will always be, on-site network administrator. I grew up with computers. From the Commodore 64 through my most recent Macbook Air, electronics have always been a part of what I love. I attribute that love to my father. Dad, at one point, worked in a television shop back when those were as vital as shoe repair shops. Anything electronic, he had his hands in it. Now, my brother and I are not the least bit intimidated by learning about how those types of things work.
With budget cuts affecting all public entities, including libraries, I’ve had to become more involved in the IT functions of the library. Gone are the two antiquated and inadequate T1 lines, in their stead is a fiber connection that (when it’s fully functional) runs circles around our old speed. In preparing for the change over I have been learning more of the technical aspects of computer networks and its components. My head, now swimming with information, is struggling to find the time for much else. I’ll find that I begin a seemingly simply process only to look up an hour later. Whoever said that technology makes life easier must be speaking from the side that doesn’t actually implement it.
I understand now why people get really ornery about something not working. Here’s the thing to understand about computers and computing, a keystroke makes all the difference. Literally, if you mistype any little thing or forget one element such as a bracket or a space, everything can stop working. Or, everything that was working will come to a halt. And finding the error can be like finding a needle in a haystack (try viewing the source code of most websites). I love technology, I really do. I can’t imagine my life without my Mac, iPhone, iPad, etc. However, I do think that there is a lot of truth to how much technology has changed us.
Until fairly recently I had my phone alert me to new emails. I began to become more and more irritable. My anxiety level rose as the next beep or alert on my phone would cause my neck to become tense and my breathing to become strained. But, I know that in today’s world it is impossible, especially if you have an information technology job, to avoid the Internet. All of my banking is done online, all of my contacts are stored digitally, everything is electronic in some way.
It’s the best feeling when everything works as it should. You turn on the computer and your browser immediately loads, you click on a program and it instantaneously opens. It’s when those things break, the very ones that we come to expect without thinking about the intricacies of how they work, that we feel helpless and frustrated. Like many Americans I’m impatient. I must have everything now. Why can’t everything be open 24/7?! You know what I mean, when you feel the need to call your student loan company on the weekend or at night when you’ve gotten off of work only to find that they close at 5pm.
It’s when our library catalog computers are down when I’m most reminded of how much we depend on them. And it is when the computer stations are eerily empty that I consider what life would be like if we weren’t so tethered to the Internet. But then again, in having IT as a major job function I’m now able to see more clearly how both freeing and restrictive being so technologically dependent can be.
This article appeared on page 5A in the 6/26/13 issue of The Union-Recorder. The article appeared under the title of Time, Technology and the Meaning of Life.