Digital Deniers

Do it if you want to — just don’t be proud of it.

I phoned my cousin Mike yesterday to make arrangements for dinner.  We were about to compare calendars and I was stalling while Outlook came up on my machine.  Mike laughed.  He was ready.  All he needed was a date book and a pen.   He laughed and said — “I’m 51 and I still use a date book.”

Of course, as always happens whenever there’s a challenge like this — Outlook took it’s sweet time loading.  Actually, it hung for a minute, as if to prove the triumph of high over low tech.  Mike took the moment to gloat.  So he should.  And it’s okay.  In this circumstance, keeping track of a few social engagements — an electronic calendar is overkill.

But I don’t keep track of 5 or 6 things.  I have 20 or more events happening some days.  Some nights I have 2 or more meetings.  I have calls and records of calls.  I could make 10 or 15 in a day.  Each one of those could lead to several items – documents, tasks – often spread out among staff and business contacts.  Many of those people want to book appointments with me via their calendars – sending me electronic invites.   All of those contacts want me to remember them.   So I really want to link dates and events to contacts and be able to easily pull up a great deal of info.  Last, but never least, I have to keep track of a multitude of times and details from the hours that I bill to the mileage and expenses that our government (and she who keeps our books) must have as proof of even the most meager of expenses.

So my calendar is — shall we say — complex.  It has a number of components – Outlook synchronized with our CRM, my smartphone, Google for several calendars with organizations I work with and now – for those who I work with over the web, I’m experimenting with   As complex as all this sounds, it works.  And I’d be lost without it — it’s saved my ass many times, this mass of electronic organization.

With all of this, the guy who can’t remember what he had for lunch yesterday can remember where I have to go, who I have to see, what I did three months ago on Tuesday afternoon and — oh, yes, it’s Mother’s day on Sunday (phone mom) and Happy Birthday Phill  (Saturday).

The point?  You have to understand the task before you comment on the technology.  Yes, cousin Mike’s book may be appropriate  for him, but it’s hopelessly inadequate for me.  This system can be updated and more importantly, can be retrieved from any computer anywhere — or one of my two smartphones.  Okay, that might seem like overkill, but we develop apps for both Blackberry and iPhone.  Got you there, didn’t I?  You thought I was just a toy loving geek.  Which I am.  But there is a rationale for everything.  Not a rationalization.  A rationale.

Mike thinks I’m nuts.  That’s okay.  He doesn’t understand what I do.  That’s where the danger lies.  You have to understand how the technology is used before you can decide if I’m a prisoner of technology or liberated by it.   My cousin Mike will never understand.  Even if he did, he’s still laugh at me.  Mike is a sweet, loveable luddite and although he kids me, I know that he’s actually proud of the stuff I do.  But he has to kid me.  That’s what cousins do.

But there’s another Mike.  Michael Enright.  He has a national radio show on CBC radio.   I was listening to it a few weeks back and heard him say with disdain, “I don’t tweet — or whatever it is.” He said this with the smugness of someone who was “above that sort of thing” and with great pride.

Here’s where I draw the line.

Enright’s smugness bugged me.  Why?  Well for one, he works for the CBC – one of the most sophisticated of broadcasters with some of the best use of technology anywhere.  Their podcast library is amazing.  Their technology journalism on programs like Spark — fantastic.  Picture a show which is created from it’s blog and a mass of people linked by technology.   That’s Spark.  But it’s not just shows about technology.  Another favourite of mine is called Tapestry and it has the most incredible shows on philosophy and spiritual thought that you will hear anywhere in this world.  How do I know?  I listen around the world, thanks to technology.

Enright’s disdain was not just at technology, it was at his fellow journalists and his audience.  The social media revolution that he was poo-pooing was the very wave that was revitalizing his industry and making public broadcasting not an anachronism, but a leader in the the new world of journalism.

When I tweet a Spark episode — or when I email Tapestry or next week, when I can use our new PodPoster app to post my comments, I’m participating in a medium that is increasingly collaborative and far less a one way broadcast.  Enright is dissing — and missing — all of that.

What a shame.  Especially since Enright came to fame because of a show that exploited technology — the telephone.  Years ago, he was a stallwart on a show called “As It Happens”.   That show brought us all around the world to events and people using telephones and recording technology.  It broke the mold for journalism at the time.  It was new, brash and — damned interesting.

Which makes Enright’s little luddite lullaby seem sad.   I pass on Enright’s monologue and click on a Spark podcast — the one with the longer, unedited interview.

I won’t change Enright.  I just tune him out.  Too bad.  He’s a bright guy with a lot to offer.  But if he dropped off the air, I wouldn’t miss him.  Not like I miss Andy Berry.  He hosted the morning show which I could get anywhere in the world.  Andy Berry, who, to the time he retired was still embracing new ideas and new technology, regaling us with stories of is iPhone.  No surprise that he went out at the top of his game.

Staying receptive to new ideas — that’s the ticket to reinventing yourself.  Whether it’s a radio host or a radio network.  Even if your base is a technology that people thought was dead and gone, if you stay open to new ideas, that fusion of new and old can still keep you out in front.

I’m not as old as Andy or Enright, but I’m no kid either.   I hope that I stay open to new ideas — even when they are uncomfortable.  Whether it’s rap music or Twitter, I hope that I don’t close my mind before I really try the experience and even if it’s not for me, I hope I can try to appreciate why it might work for someone else.  Because it’s not always about me.  That’s a lesson that I learned a long time ago.

It’s my hope and my silent prayer.

Because you don’t always realize it.  When you start to calcify, you don’t think that you have a problem, you think that the rest of the world does.  Kids these days!  Or worse, “common sense”.  All those things that we use to hide our denial — when what we really mean is, I’ve closed myself off from options.

Who knows?  Maybe one day it will happen to me.  But for now, I’ll thank my luck stars that I’m not a digital denier.

At 54 there’s still hope for me – and my crazed calendar.

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Filed under Change, Commentary, Social Media, Social Networking, Technology

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