Aging in an all-Apps world

My iPad 2 arrived at the back door the other day.  I’d heard the buzz. And I knew that once I opened the box, I was supposed to feel as though I was entering some incredible, calorie-rich candy store.

Only it didn’t work. I opened the box, cruised through what looked like hundreds upon hundreds of Apps I could buy and sometimes tap for free, and shut it down.  Maybe on vacation, if I can find the patience.

Maybe it’s my generation, maybe my multiple left thumbs, but the latest hot thing never does give me chills.  I grew up in a world of stories, starting from my days as a camper when counselors would scare us half to death with ghost yarns around the campfire. To me stories, not gadgets, are a way to make sense of things and to communicate with other people.  They offer both a personal and a shared experience.

Today, I sense, we are rapidly headed toward a fundamentally different reality — a world of computer Apps that in the not-so-distant future may at times be implanted in our bodies. It is a world in which many, if not most, of us apply our imagination to virtual, ever-shifting, sometimes three-dimensional space, where community is found on a SmartPhone or iPad, not on the streets around us.

I see this emerging reality every day as I ride up and down a campus elevator or walk across the Boston Common and watch people staring and smiling at their digital devices. They don’t notice those sharing physical space because they are so immersed in digital space.

Within those confines, I suspect, these people — most often students or young professionals — are engaging in activities that in their view are both personal and shared.  It’s just that their experiences are fundamentally different from the kinds of shared activities that I and friends of my generation spent time doing and still prefer to engage in.

I neither condemn nor envy those enraptured by this emerging world. I can’t help but marvel, however, at the speed at which this new reality is taking hold. Some days it seems as fast and total as the tsunami that rolled over northern Japan (though it builds new communities more often than destroying old ones).

At age 62, I’m largely watching this revolution from the sidelines.  No, it’s not that I’m looking for a good rocking chair nor a pasture in which I can sit chewing over past experiences.  Day-to-day life still holds plenty of vitality.

But as the changes of comteporary communication careen past in the hypercaffeinated way that is modern times, I’m not about to let them displace the things I cherish — a lively conversation during a morning walk or over an evening dinner party;  a good read, preferably someplace crisp and outdoors; the pace and pattern of a good yarn that hooks the reader or listener early and then keeps him or her on tenderhooks until the very end.

I’m keenly curious whether there will be room for such stories in this emerging world of three-dimenional Apps; new games, gimmicks and devices; endless promotion of self or something else. I’m not sure. But at least in the spaces I hold for myself, I’ll stay this course.

Such sentiments, I’m coming to realize, are what getting older is about.  Age sneaks up. Then, one day it dawns on you that you are esconsed in a world that’s disappearing rapidly, even as  this new world, one now driven by Apps and tweets, both dazzles and bewilders.

No question. At times this new reality leaves you — or at least me — feeling left out, even incompetent.  But in the end, I have to come to terms with a deeper truth: At some level, I don’t care to “catch up.” I like the creative and sometimes imaginary world in which I grew up — one of words and stories. told in linear fashion.  I like to think abot life and solve its riddles not by venturing into digital forests nor by taking on avatars that allow me to reinvent myself, but through the lessons of experience, through the words and characters of people, real and imagined.

Even as I increasingly find myself in surroundings in which neither stories nor words matter as much as they once did, it is these stories and words that continue to make my reality vital, imaginative and interesting.

The rapid-fire changes of contemporary communication are fact. They are, in my view, neither worth lamenting nor pooh-poohing as those in younger generations embrace them with gusto. But I will borrow from these new wonders cautiously, testing the ever-changing waters without immersing myself fully in what’s new, but not necessarily better.


About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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