Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What's That, Daddy?

Having been in the technology business for many years, I have accumulated a lot of mementos over the years. Projects I've worked on, products I've created, stuff I just can't or haven't thrown away.

But it didn't really hit me how much stuff is really old until my 7-year-old son saw something the other day and asked, "What's that, Daddy?"

What my son was looking at was a memento from a software project that had been created and published on 3.5-inch floppy disks. He had never seen a floppy disk before.

I tried to explain to him that it's how people used to move information from computer to computer and he was having difficulty understanding life without high-speed Internet access.

Later that weekend, he was really trying to get me to buy him a song from iTunes on his iPod Touch. We were in a rush and so I said we'd buy it when we arrived at our destination, which happened to be a restaurant.

When we sat down in the restaurant, I said I'd help him buy the song. His 7-year-old fingers quickly navigated the Touch screen to open up the iTunes app. But it wouldn't let us search for the song. His fingers then zipped to the Settings app, where he tried his best to find a WiFi signal.

In the end, he looked up at me and said sadly, "They don't have WiFi in this restaurant." Such disappointment. He had to wait until we returned home before he could buy his song.

As I think back on the technology that was new and leading edge in my younger years (i.e., punched computer cards, dial-up modems, teletypes, even fax machines) and compare that with what kids use today (i.e., mobile devices, high-speed Internet access, television on demand, Facebook and more), I marvel at how things have changed.

I wonder how much, if any, my children's world is better because they didn't learn about many of the things that make up my experiences. Of course, my grandparents probably wondered how my life is different because I didn't experience the Great Depression or World War II.

Ultimately, we are the result of our experiences. One day, I will probably sit down with both my daughter and son and talk about life and computing in "the olden days." While I do that, I'm sure they'll be texting or Facebooking their friends about how they're glad they never lived back then.

Another day, I may even throw out large chunks of my history. I already am lacking any computer that can read a 3.5-inch floppy disk. It won't be too many years before reading a CD or DVD will be problematic.

But when my children have children, I'm sure one of my grandchildren will look at a DVD and ask, "What's that, Daddy?" I hope I'm around to smile when my son has to answer the question.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 13 June 2012.

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