Author: Poling, Chuck

Tech Talk

For many of the baby boom generation like myself, the increasing rapidity of technological change has been an ongoing challenge. Weíre young enough to appreciate and to learn how to utilize technology to our benefit, but we may not be excited about progress for progressís sake.

There are lots of practical aspects of digital technology that have become part of our everyday lives Ė sending and receiving emails, using a GPS, paying bills online Ė but there are many more benefits that we pass on, either because we are flummoxed by the user interface or simply because we just donít see how this particular widget will make our lives any better.

Instagram? Twitter? Pinterest? No thanks. I donít see anything wrong with them, itís just that I figure Iíve got so much time left on this earth and thereís other things Iíd rather do than constantly update my Facebook status. Do my friends really need to know Ė and see a photo Ė of the hueveos rancheros I had for breakfast?

We fifty-somethings are of the generation that made the first big technological shift in the Ď80s. When I started working with graphic artists, cutting and pasting required a knife to cut and some glue or wax to paste. With the advent of page layout programs, the same task became a keyboard command.

Early graphics programs were very clunky and very limited in their scope by todayís standards. Instruction manuals were very poorly written and tech help was nonexistent. There just wasnít anybody who knew much about either hardware or software, and if they did, they generally had a hard time translating their knowledge to the rest of us.

But we figured it out. We had to. Our jobs depended on it. We had one young guy in the marketing department who was really into video games, and he became our de facto IT guy. He was naturally inquisitive and willing to try things to see what worked best. The rest of us were terrified of breaking something and getting into trouble. Some designers staunchly refused to use computers and kept to their drafting tables. For a while, anyway. It soon became apparent to these old dogs that it was time to either learn some new tricks or get out of the business.

Since my first job with a computer, Iíve watched the technology just ramp things up further and further. Speed and capacity go up and prices go down. A smartphone that weighs a few ounces is thousands of times faster and more robust than my first desktop Apple computer.

Over the ensuing years, Iíve learned to pick and choose how much technology I want in my life. I try to emphasize the benefits (instant communication with friends, access to almost unlimited information) and minimize the costs (junk mail, impulse shopping).

Thereís no denying that the internet has been a boon to music lovers. I can easily find lyrics, instructional videos, tablature, and numerous performance clips of my favorite bluegrass and country songs. I can instantly purchase albums or individual songs from iTunes. I can learn about bluegrass artists and festivals all over the world.

Remember what a chore it used to be to play a record or cassette tape over and over again while furiously scribbling down the lyrics (as best you could make them out)? Of course, you had to find a recording first, which could be a daunting task and required many hours of digging through dusty record bins for an album thatís been out of print for 30 years.

During the Ď80s, it seemed that everyone I knew was getting cable TV. I didnít care that much about watching TV, but I thought, ďGee, wouldnít it be great if I had some kind of antenna that could pull in the best radio stations from all over the country. Now with the worldwide web, I can do just that. I regularly tune into WDVX in Knoxville and WWOZ in New Orleans. I even listen to my favorite local bluegrass radio shows produced by KALW and KPFA on the web because the signal doesnít suffer from interference that terrestrial broadcasting is subject to.

Facebook keeps me up to date on what all my musician friends are up to and if any big name bluegrass artists are coming through town (come on out to see James King at our local pub, the Plough and Stars, this Thursday, the 25th). I can share music files with my bandmates and easily email details of upcoming gigs.

Theoretically, I could produce my own CD, using my laptop and various recording programs like Garage Band and ProTools. Lots of people I know have done it, but I havenít been tempted. I figure any time spend messing around with recording levels is time Iím not actually playing an instrument. Sure, itíd be nice to have some recordings of the songs Jeanie and I perform, but if I ever did want to cut a CD, Iíd work with skilled, professional engineers. Buying ProTools does not turn me into Joe Weed anymore than buying a D-28 with an oversized sound-hole turns me into Tony Rice.

So Iíll take technology al a carte, adopting what I find useful and ignoring what I donít. Applying a cost-benefit analysis to each new widget that comes along, Iíll weigh the advantages of it against the impact itíll have on my life. Some changes canít be avoided Ėour computers become obsolete in a just a few years.

Computers can be frustrating, intriguing, and mind-numbing, all at the same time. The internet truly is ďtoo much information,Ē and Iím sure many of you have, like me, looked up at the clock and realized that youíve just spent three-and-a-half hours looking at vintage instruments for sale or watching Reno and Smiley clips on YouTube.
But overall Iíve enjoyed the access the music that digital technology provides and the ability to communicate with other musicians.

Now if I could just stay away from mandolin cafťÖ
Posted:  7/22/2013

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