Looking back…nostalgia, or a warning of things to come?

Well, this place is ‘my dropbox for tech thoughts’, and today I’m going to take advantage of that and launch into a train of thought that has been particularly bothering me lately. Let me start from the beginning. I often find myself slightly annoyed at work when I have to do tasks on Windows XP that Windows 7 could do much better. Frequently I recommend that home users also make the upgrade. I vouch strongly for Windows 8 and can’t wait to see how it performs on tablet hardware, especially of the x86-64 variety. And yet, for all my kicking against it, I can’t seem to completely move away from the OS myself.


The year was 2003.

I remember it well…

Two large packages arrived at our doorstep, each with a large DELL logo slapped on the side. It had arrived: our gateway to the 21st century. The computer was my family’s first to have been ordered over the internet, just one of many signs that the times were a’changin’. Gone were the days of 3D Accelerators and Glide, CPUs measured in MHz, SDRAM, 10GB hard drives, CRT monitors,16-bit (and worse) colors, and beigeboxes. As I watched in awe when my dad powered on and set up that computer for the first time, nothing had ever looked so crisp, sounded so clear, or felt so powerful.

This was not my first new computer experience, of course. I can also recall well seeing our DOS machine getting replaced by a Gateway in ’98, but the jump from Windows 3.1 felt more like an incremental step than anything. Windows XP was revolutionary.

But that was 10 years ago. Obviously, these days XP is nothing revolutionary, and can even be a pain. Why go back? I can tell you right away that technological superiority has nothing to do with it. Whenever I boot up XP, it is for one thing and one thing only: to run old applications not properly supported by the latest and greatest software. In other words, I’ve come to realize that I don’t have a tendency to go back to Windows XP for Windows XP’s sake, but rather for what that operating system represents to me. And what makes that so special?

Nostalgia? I think not.

I won’t deny there’s a small sense of nostalgia surrounding all this, but I honestly don’t think nostalgia is the root cause. If that was the case, I’d go back to using Windows 98, since that is, after all, still my most-used OS to date, though I abandoned it years ago. No, I can’t merely be suffering from nostalgia. I believe there is something else that is starting to make the late 90’s and early 00’s look pretty good, and not just technologically. Technology is all about forward progression, so technology itself really can’t be the culprit. It can, however, be the harbinger.

Still had Substance…

There was a time not so long ago when technology still had substance. A time when computers actually enhanced our real lives rather than replaced them. Nowadays, we’ve got digital downloads instead of real, physical disks you can hold in your hand, to the point where many are already calling physical media as good as dead. Social networks now replace our photo albums and films, not to mention the fact that since virtually every piece of tech has a camera on it, our pictures aren’t really memories worth saving anymore. They’re just spur of the moment shots that we’ll probably regret later, or forget about entirely. Chances are you snapped that shot of yourself alone, standing in front of the mirror, anyway…after all, we’ve also got profiles instead of friends. I’ll be the first one to admit that online relationships can be great to have, but let’s face it: they can’t replace personal relationships or even come close to compensating for a lack of them. Oh, but that still isn’t all! Remember when going to see a movie left you invigorated, feeling like the world was a more vivid, colorful place than it was before you walked into the theater? Now we’ve got video games and movies that cause us to bemoan our real lives instead of motivate us to tackle real life with a renewed energy. Instead of visual, aural power naps designed to boost our performance in the real world, they’ve become alternate realities of their own.

The scariest part? All of it has the potential to be wiped out or withheld from our access literally within an instant.

Even before anyone had ever dreamed about computers as we know them today, creating and accessing information was an important part of human life. It is our natural and in-bred desire for this that has caused us to develop the technologies that we have in the first place! The problem is that we’ve sacrificed prolonged, meaningful access to data for a few people in exchange for instant-gratification access to data for the masses. We’ve given up our privacy for popularity. We’ve spent so much time crafting a public image of who we want to be perceived as that we’ve forgotten who we really are. Nostalgia? Definitely not.

What to do?

How are we to respond to these signs of things to come? Simply going back never solved anything, and good luck trying to convince the world to give up information technologies. Needless to say, I don’t believe abandoning technology is the answer. What I do believe we should do is learn from history, else we be doomed to repeat it. The only problem with that is…this is the first period in history of its kind. What will happen to our future generations? Will they have dusty old photo albums to pull out from the attic to look back and remember times gone by, or will all their (already intangible) memories be lost in a server crash? What will happen to people when having multiple personalities, multiple faces, becomes not just the norm, but the requirement for operating in a tech-filled culture? Will history have to crash and burn first before anyone can learn from it?

I love technology. That’s why this blog exists, that’s why I deliver this message using technology. But sometimes I have to pause and wonder: are we building ourselves a brighter future through it all, or instead a much shallower one?