About a year ago, my bank opened a new branch in the Union here at the University of Michigan next to an ATM that had existed as long as I can remember. Opting to be as efficient as possible (human interaction can be so pesky, right?), I continued to use the ATM rather than the tellers at the branch.
One day, the ATM was out of order, and I decided to go into the bank. Strangely, this branch had no tellers. Rather, it had about 4 kiosks consisting of video monitors, a telephone, and a strange looking capsule. The instructions on the kiosk indicated that I was to fill out a withdrawal form, place it in the capsule with identification, and wait for a teller to appear on the screen!
I have to admit, I was a bit taken aback by this contraption that looked like something out of the Jetsons. On top of my confusion and the growing line of people behind me, I quickly realized that I didn't have my account number handy to put on the withdrawal form. I was used to using my ATM card + pin at a machine! Not knowing what to do or how to get ahold of someone on the other end, I sort-of backed away sheepishly.
This encounter made me rather depressed. Here I am, a pretty bright Computer Science student at the University of Michigan, unable to work a Jetsonsesque semi-automated teller machine contraption.
A few days ago, the ATM was out of order again. This gave me the perfect 2nd chance. As I walked into the branch, I realized that yet again I had the same account number issue. Luckily, there was a bank rep there to answer any questions. He said if I dropped my ATM card into the capsule, they wouldn't need my account number. Brilliant. It was a rather exciting experience actually.. sending away my signed withdrawal slip & ATM card into oblivion and getting it back minutes later accompanied by $80. I found myself wondering where the nice girl on the screen in front of me actually sat. On another floor where space is less expensive, I suppose. In the future, maybe she'll be all the way in Bangalore, right? :-)
Anyhow, I can't express how much of an idiot I felt like going through this whole ordeal. Finally, the other day, I broke down and admitted my stupidity in shame to a fellow Computer Science student. His response blew me away. He was also afraid of trying the strange semi-automated teller machine contraptions!
At this point, I knew that it had nothing to do with stupidity at all. Rather, it fit right in with other similar, scary feelings I've encountered from time to time over the last 2-3 years: I'm becoming extinct.
I remember playing Super Mario Brothers on my new Nintendo when I was 5 or 6 years old, and the awe that my parents and every other grown-up had of my Nintendo-playing generation. To them, Pong was revolutionary. Toss them a NES controller, and they wouldn't know what to do with it. Toss me an NES controller, and I knew exactly which one of the 999,999 bushes to burn in The Legend of Zelda to open a secret cave and win 500 rupees.
Almost twenty years later, a 10 year old with a PS2 controller could most certainly hand me my ass on a platter at whatever is the latest version of Grand Theft Auto..
Don't get me wrong.. I try to stay current. The problem is, I didn't use to have to try. I had all day and all night to play on my Nintendo, and later my computer, growing up -- especially during those fantastically long elementary school summer vacations!
Now, while I'm still absolutely ahead of the technology curve among my peers, I realize that I'll inevitably fall behind among members of the next several generations. In 30 years, they'll confidently be explaining their new technology to me as I confidently explain it to my Dad and his friends today.
Even as I continue to invent and innovate, today's kids will take my technology and hack it up for uses unimaginable and unforeseeable to me or anyone else -- like my generation and the generation before me have also done.
When my kids are reading e-books, I may still be reading paperbacks -- because I like the feel.. just as my father liked the feel of writing on his paper legal pads until finally taking that leap into the unknown and learning to use a word processor ("back in my day", they didn't have graphical user interfaces and we had to retrofit the function keys on the keyboard with inserts explaining which keys mapped to which functions -- it really was a leap for Dad).
I can just imagine it now.. "When I was young, we had to drive the cars ourselves! They had foot pedals, and a big wheel, and we had to turn on a flashing light every time we wanted to change direction!"
I hope it's awhile before I start having more of these feeling of extinction experiences.. I vow to always tackle them head on.. But I'll always remember the time when I didn't have to tackle them at all.. the time when it all just came naturally.