Do We Need a Techie 12-Step Program?

“Hello, my name is Curmudgeon, and I’m a nerd.”
The crowd murmurs “Hello Curmudgeon.”
“Well it’s been kinda a tough week. I mean, it’s been months since I even so much as downloaded a new app for my phone. But my wife, Snowball, she keeps bringing home these cool tech toys from work like some cruel, 21st-century, junkie dealer. I try not to touch them or even look too close. Then the other day she brought home this little pc board with LEDs that emulated a six-sided dice piece. I broke! I fell off of the no-tech wagon! I wrote two programs in a language called Python to measure the accuracy of the randomness. And then I made it even worse by looking up the website for the pc board and learning how that gets programmed. I’m sorry! I couldn’t help myself! I need to make amends!”

That Nerds Anonymous meeting never happened but who knows whether it should or not. It’s already been determined that Internet, e-mail and our instant-communication-prone world is an addiction. I know I have a problem just because I’m sitting here writing this on a laptop so I can make it available to millions of people (even if only about a dozen are reading it at this point) when I should be outside walking around the lagoon in the park.

I think I’ve seen pretty much the entire continuous spectrum between total Luddite and addicted nerd. I remember this one guy I worked with in the eighties who thought he knew all about computers and in reality just wasn’t grasping the concepts. He asked me what kind of computer he should get for his home probably expecting me to say Apple, IBM or Commodore. Without skipping a beat I said Atari. (Ok, it was the eighties, remember) He looked at me like a beaten puppy when he realized my lack of faith in him. But I could only be honest.

Then there was the student who just wasn’t getting the concepts of Desktop Publishing using Windows. I went over and said “Ok show me what you are having a problem with.” After a moment I reached down and turned her mouse so she was holding it pointing away from her instead of toward her. After that she had no problems.

These are old examples of a problem that’s been with us since the Univac. Some people can handle technology and its addictions and some can’t. Today we have the problem of texting and driving. It’s just as dangerous if not more so than driving under the influence of alcohol. At least with drinking you just had to drive between the things you saw, with texting you don’t even see them. (Just kidding! Don’t drink and drive or text and drive.) We need to recognize that people are becoming addicted to texting and other e-communications just as strongly as alcohol.  The unfortunate difference is that unless you intend to spend the rest of your life driving a horse and buggy down the back roads of Pennsylvania, you still need to use the technology.

So how do we solve the problem of addictive texting? We still have to use texting, etc. to survive in present society. But there are times when it is vastly inappropriate. Its dangers at those times are as bad as any other drug. I don’t know the answer. Dammit Jim, I’m a technologist not a psychologist. I wish it could be as simple as when my generation was young and we were taught a set of manners for use in polite society or, as we thought,  to use around the grown-ups. Things like you always take your hat off indoors, don’t put your elbows on the dinner table, close your mouth when you eat. Now we should add to that only use your cell phone when you aren’t driving, walking, or standing right next to someone you should be talking to face-to-face.