Still Waiting for My Flying Car

21st Century Culture

Living in the heart of the Silicon Valley I am constantly reminded how technology is changing our lives. Google’s self-driving cars cruising up Shoreline Blvd., the addictive power of sleek new smart phones, and even the Tesla next door are all harbingers of a new age of unprecedented innovation.

But when I look at my daily routine, very little has changed through the years. Instead of shuffling papers in my desk I shuffle windows on my computer. Instead of interoffice mail, there is email. Scans of PDFs replace faxes. Spam instead of junk mail. An iPhone instead of a Walkman.

All of which brings me to the eternal question: Where is my flying car – that thing that was going change my life?

I’ve considered the fact that as a writer my work might not be subject to sea changes. I work from home, but writers have been doing that since the age of the quill pen. I theoretically have access to a vast array of info via the internet that I didn’t have before. But I still usually end up getting a librarian to help me find what I need just like I did in the old days. (I might even argue that the internet has made research harder because there is so much chaff to sort through, but that’s another blog for another day.)

I have something like 1,000 TV channels, but most of my viewing time is devoted to the news or reruns of Modern Family while I’m making dinner. There’s the always-on-call nature of the mobile phone, but ever since I started doing financial PR back in the ‘80s, I’ve had to be available 24/7 whether that meant frequently checking in with the office, giving out my home phone or never being parted from the mobile phone.

Some might say satellite navigation is transformational, but as I’ve explained before I find it just maddening. There is the plethora of fitness wearables, but as I know from my client work, most are just glorified pedometers.

In fact, the technologies that will actually change our lives are still just lurking on the horizon.

So as I survey the current state of technology I do find two innovations that have actually caused me to develop new habits and routines. Unfortunately, both have had a net negative impact on my productivity.

The first is the conference call. It hasn’t replaced meetings, it’s just given managers the opportunity to force teams to report in more frequently. And it has become acceptable to expect teams to participate in conference calls at all hours of the day and night. For 18 months I had a standing weekly call at 6:00 am my time.

And inevitably there is someone on the conference call using their speakerphone in their car creating so much background noise most of the call is incomprehensible.

The other technology that has created new habits for me is more benign, although not particularly useful. That would be the digital camera, particularly the one in the smart phone. I clearly remember rationing film in the camera on a vacation or at a special occasion. And from time to time a roll of film was destroyed.

But now taking pictures of plates of food has become a daily routine. I have definitely taken more pictures of my current cats than I took of all of my previous ten cats combined.

I might be carrying more computing power in my purse than it took to run the Apollo program, but so far innovation has mainly brought me the chance to suffer through conference calls and take pictures of my food.


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