Indelible Blue Pen

Jason C. McDonald (CodeMouse92)

February 26, 2015

Excuse My Nostalgia, I Think I Can Be Considered “Old” Now

Unplugged computerfogey gap (n): the amount of time passing between feeling “with it” and catching yourself saying “kids these days”, thereby being designating as a “fogey” by the current generation.

Okay, yes, I made that up, but perhaps someone should have beat me to the punch, because the fogey gap is getting shorter. How do I know? It’s simple: I think I recently landed on the other side of said gap.

I’m in my twenties, for crying out loud! Why do I feel like an old man? My crappy memory and constant joint pain doesn’t help matters. I’m not afraid of senility – I’m halfway there already. What do I have to be afraid of, grey hair. That said, I can’t say that every 20-something has transitioned to “fogey” status.

Part of the problem, I think, is that I don’t really appreciate modern popular culture at all. I get really irritated when I see people glued to their phones constantly, texting, checking Facebook, and playing Candy Crush (or, wait, is that already out of fashion?) Modern culture in a nutshell seems to be based around the idea of being a spectator in your own life.

But I digress.

I cannot count how many times I’ve been able to use the phrase “when I was your age” on kids and teens. Has the world really changed that much in five or ten years?

I’m a 90s kid. I still get excited when I hear the old PBS “P-Pals” interstitial on VCR-to-YouTube videos. I still think colorful squiggles over a white background look cool. I have a large collection of music CDs, in their cases. I remember dial up, land lines, and floppy disks. I had a real, physical set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. I played outside in the backyard (or the neighbor’s backyard) until it was too dark to see.

I feel like I got dropped off on some alien planet. This isn’t right! Video games weren’t meant to be a replacement for childhood imagination. TVs were supposed to be turned off. Text on a digital screen wasn’t supposed to be a replacement for face-to-face relationships with actual, physical human beings.

“When I was your age,” I informed the kids next door a few weeks ago, “I paid a dollar an hour at the library for internet access, and that was usually enough time to visit about a dozen web pages.” I cannot describe the strange joy it gave me to watch their mouths drop open. I’ll admit, I’ve been saving that line since DSL was invented. (I also fired up’s Wayback Machine about an hour after that conversation, just for kicks and giggles.)

My spiel was well-justified, as those kids are practically glued to Minecraft. My entire purpose of being most Sundays is to give them something more interesting, and considerably less digital, to do. Usually it involves them, armed to the teeth with Frisbees and pool noodles, attempting to defeat my imaginary villainous scheme and recover some precious ancient treasure. If the weather isn’t obliging, we usually resort to build-offs with LEGOs.

That isn’t to say I don’t have an appreciation for Minecraft. I maintain two different servers for my friends and family. It’s an excellent way to blow off steam in the evenings. That said, I want the neighbor kids to explore the world outside of their digital devices. Their dad and step-mom are only too glad for the help in encouraging the kids to cut back on their screen time.

The fogey-gap didn’t used to be this small. It would seem that the world is changing faster than ever before. Technology is becoming more and more intrusive and addictive. If singularity ever happens, it will be because we humans abdicate from reality for our digital fantasy worlds. Red pill, blue pill.

A friend of mine asked me “what makes this reality more ‘real’ than the digital one?” I thought about this for a moment, and then I came to this conclusion: this reality is the one God designed us for, and it’s the one He commanded us to subdue (Genesis 1:28). When we choose to dwell entirely in a digital reality, we are refusing that God-given role, often choosing instead to spend all of our energy on a “world” where we feel like gods.

No, I’m not becoming a Luddite. I am a professional game developer. Creating other worlds is practically my entire job description, but that effort comes from a different perspective than some. I’m not creating an alternative reality for people to escape into – I’m creating one in which players can gain the skills they need to better live in THIS reality.

See, that’s the entire point of games and imagination. They was never intended by God to be a permanent escape, but rather they were intended as tools to equip us for our role in the real world.

The other half of this picture is that our world is addicted to the new, as if there was something inherently bad about the old. Don’t believe me? Just take a measuring wheel down to your nearest Apple Store next time they’re selling a “new” gadget, and see how long that line is. (Just make sure you arrange for your neighbor to feed your cat and pick up your mail while you’re gone.)

Back in 2000, half a gigabyte of memory was incredible power for a personal computer. Now, anything less than 4 gigs is considered a dinosaur. Flip phones were a big deal when I was a teenager, and now they’re passé.

Thank goodness I never gave a hoot about techno-fashion. I have a camera-less flip phone that I pay the bill on occasionally (pay as you go is a wonderful thing). I still like my PowerMac G4, and my nine-year-old CD/tape/radio player gets used almost every day. I found a Royal Heritage typewriter at Goodwill earlier this week, and I’ve already written half a chapter of one of my books on it. I use a page-a-day Dilbert calendar for my scheduling, and I’m looking for a Rolodex or an old-fashioned address book for my contacts. I love programming in my computer’s command line, and I still have a copy of Windows 98 on a virtual machine. Besides that, I quit Facebook last year, and I don’t own a single video game console.

I’m not trendy, but you know what? I’m probably happier than your average nerd. I use the technology I like, not the technology that Satya Nadella and Tim Cook tell me I like.

So, yes, I’m an old fogey by the world’s standards, but I have a life. When the “cool” half of the human population checks in to various alternate realities on a permanent basis, I’ll be one of the people left to keep this one running.

Just don’t hate me if I unplug your simulated world someday. There’s a real world out here, and it needs you in it.


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