Was Life Better Without Computers?

I wish I had a quarter for every time my dad said he hates computers. But I felt his pain as I sat on the phone with a tech guy in India for a half hour while trying to get our wireless router to actually work with my laptop. He’s right: computers can be one of the most frustrating things we own.

As a Gen Y-er, I still have early memories of the days when life did not revolve around a constant need for computer-driven technologies. My family has, though, had a computer since before I started school. As entrepreneurs in a graphics-related business, a giant white clunker of a computer was a great aid to their production. I played a few games occasionally and became a CorelDraw! whiz by age 9. But it wasn’t until I was 11 that we actually had the internet. It’s been all downhill since then.

So, what have really we gained with computers? I’ll be the first to admit I’m a typical twenty something computer and social media addict. But let’s think of how things were before we had to be connected all the time:

Computers: Life aid or frustration causing beast?
  • We actually talked. I stay in communication with friends, but since the dawn of computer-driven communications, I’m much more likely to shoot an email, post on their Facebook wall, initiate a G-Chat or Facebook IM, Tweet them, or text. Phone conversations with close friends are few and far between these days, with a Skype chat even more likely to occur than a plain ole phone conversation. Gone are the days of teenagers tying up the phone lines for hours on end. Instead, they’re shooting the phone bills through the roof with texting charges while simultaneously depleting their communication skills with txts tht looook lke thssss lolz
  • We had things to talk about. With Facebook album postings and Tweets about every waking moment of every day, the conversation base starts drying up after a while. No longer do we need to hear the details of your stepsister’s first cousin’s wedding because, alas, you’ve documented it in play-by-play form in a Facebook album that includes the car ride over, wedding procession, and your half eaten plate of dry chicken.
  • Writing was easier. In the old days of elementary school a paper assignment meant whipping out the loose leaf (no torn out scraggly paper from a notebook for my teachers!) and was a simple matter of putting the pencil to paper. Fast forward to college, when a handwritten assignment was almost unspeakable. So, we turned to the standby of Microsoft Word, where we battled the computer procrastination demons of iTunes, Mahjong, and, the devil itself, Facebook. In addition, the element of writing on the computer also creates the extra fear of losing the priceless pages with the quark of a microchip. Those third grade reports on Triceratops were never at risk of disappearing into thin air with the wrong click of a pen. They just faced the standard risks of turning into dog food or being used to mop up your spilled Kool-Aid.
  • We used libraries. There are these wonderful things called libraries. Almost every town has them. The one in my town is actually kind of awesome, as are a lot of others around. Back before the information highway took over, people actually flocked to the libraries to find information on paper. I’m still a sucker for a trip to the library, where I peruse the shelves and study the spines of interesting reads. But the need to go to the library seems to decrease less and less as the information becomes more readily available electronically. Don’t get me wrong, spreading information online has the possibility to make our lives easier. We can get instantaneous answers to the pressing questions of life, like, “What is this strange rash that’s developed on my leg?” and “What was the name of that actor that was in that one film that one time with that one actress?” But are we doing it at the expense of two of the greatest inventions of all time: the library and the printed book?
  • We had better eyesight. Staring at a computer screen non-stop? Not so great for the peepers. By the time I hit 40 it will be time for inch-thick lenses.
  • We had lower blood pressure. Okay, this probably isn’t true. But how many times have you felt the desire to take a sledgehammer to your computer after it insisted on freezing while you were almost done with detailed, color-coded, 9 page spreadsheet?

Computers are wonderful inventions that do, in fact, make our lives easier at times. After all, I wouldn’t be writing this blog without them. But sometimes it’s nice to ponder the days of less computer time, when I spent more time with less frustration, less (literal, eyestrain-induced) headaches, and knew way less about the musical tastes of a random guy who once sat behind me in a class. What do you think?

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