You Know You're Over 40 When…

There’s Only So Much New Technology You Can Embrace


This week, I was dragged kicking and screaming onto Google Plus. Or Google+, as it’s known by some. Or G+, as it’s known by people with busy lives.

I didn’t want to set up a Google Plus account, but had to because of my job. The place where I work is internet-based, you see, and extremely good at harnessing all the amazing internet-based things which make it one of the biggest and most successful websites around. Such as: getting everyone who works there to use Google+ (oh god, I’m starting to use the lingo already).

And the reason I didn’t want to set up a G+ (well, I do have a busy life) account is this: there’s only so much technology I can be bothered with these days.


In 1987, I sat my O Levels (younger readers: these are a bit like GCSEs, only harder. American readers: these are a bit like SATs, only harder). One of said O Levels was Computer Studies – which mainly involved writing essays about barcode systems and daisy wheel printers…


…and very little actual computer work. I’m sure that Computer Studies is very different now. Kids probably learn how to code, and create apps, and hack into government systems.

Similarly, the computer games I played were the very early ones: Space Invaders on an Atari, Pole Position and Track And Field at arcades (but only when on holiday), and of course, the ones where you’d put a cassette in a ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 and wait half an hour for it to load, like Frogger, Pac-Man and Manic Miner. I hasten to add that I personally didn’t own an Atari, ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64, but was lucky enough to have friends who did. I have fond memories of spending school lunchtimes at Caroline Hughes’s house, for example, where we’d eat our sandwiches in five minutes flat, listen to Tears For Fears while we waited 30 minutes for a game to load, play it for 15 minutes, and then dash back to school. Good times. Especially if one of us had achieved a new High Score.

The Eighties weren’t just about computer games, though. The other significant technological advancement to enter my life came after my mum won £1,000 on the Premium Bonds and celebrated it by treating the family to a VCR. This was a particularly big deal as a) we were not a fancy, gadget-y household and b) VCRs were only just becoming popular in British homes. As a result of both these things, we bought a Betamax. It took many, many years – and the slow, painful dearth [sic] of Betamax rental films in our local video shop – to convince my parents that they should switch to VHS.

When I was at university, I wrote my essays by hand, of course, and research was limited to books in the library and searches through microfiches. And in my first jobs – which were working as the assistant manager of a virtual reality ride* in the Trocadero, and then as the assistant manager of an arthouse cinema** – I would cash up at night with the aid of a calculator, a sheet of paper and a bottle of Tippex, with background music emanating from a dusty little cassette player. And then I’d send through the details of the takings to head office via a fax machine. It was quite the day when we introduced credit card bookings, I can tell you.

(Fun fact: A projectionist at the cinema once handed me a cassette demo made by one of our front-of-house staff and his mates. I put it on as I totted up the day’s takings, and as I half-listened, thought to myself: “They’re pretty good… they sound like Primal Scream”. They were The Beta Band.)

By the time I was working as a comedy promoter a few years later, things had improved tremendously. I had a computer. Oh, yes. Although given that I’d attended typing classes as a teenager, it’s a wonder I didn’t do this when I first used one:

And we didn’t just have computers in that office. Oh, no. We also had internal email. Still, that was nothing compared to my friend Jill, who had begun work at a big conference company where you could email people outside the building. I couldn’t quite get my head around such futuristic nonsense.

But fast forward later still, and I’d got a DVD player, seen The Hamster Dance – and the rest is all a big, internet-shaped blur…


When Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, I read a piece which made the point that the team of people who were moving into the White House were the first generation to really embrace – not avoid, or reluctantly learn to use – all sorts of new technologies as part of their day-to-day lives.

And while Obama’s a little older than me (happy 52nd birthday for August, Mr President!), I think the same holds true for us fortysomethings. In fact, off the top of my head, here’s what I reckon I’ve adapted to/learned to use over the years, in chronological order. As far as I can remember. The electronic waves from all the gadgets might have addled my brain:

Cassette tapes, computer games, VCRs (Betamax and VHS), personal stereos, word processors, the PC, CDs, the Gameboy, remote controls, email, the internet, mobile phones, texting, DVDs, the iBook, iTunes, the iPod, Flickr, the Macbook, digital cameras, blogging, html, MySpace, Facebook, Skype, podcasting, mobile phones that can take photos and stuff, emoticons, Spotify, Twitter, wifi, the Kindle, 3G.

While it’s no Blitz, it’s quite a lot for one generation to have gone through, learning how to use all that lot. Well done, everyone.

But now I want to shout “ENOUGH ALREADY!”. And I’m not even American. Or Jewish.

I have Spotify playlists and an (increasingly redundant, thanks to Spotify) iTunes library – I can’t keep up with 8 Tracks, too. I have a Flickr account to store my photos, and a digital camera and mobile phone to take them with, so do I really need to bother with Instagram? And I’m afraid I don’t have time to see what someone’s pinning on their Pinterest board (although I hear it’s likely to be a picture of a cupcake) because it’s all I can do to check my emails, comment on my friends’ Facebook statuses and tweet on Twitter.

I’m not about to go off and live in the woods. Partly because there’s a distinct lack of electricity out there, plus I’m not the world’s greatest camper. But as I stare at the ever decreasing circles of Google Plus, I would rather like it if everyone just slowed down a bit with this whole technology thing, please. I’d just like to catch my breath, have a sit down, and get my head fully around the things which I’ve probably still only got it half around.

Maybe it’s because my brain is now full.

Maybe it’s because I’m over 40.

Or maybe it’s just because I was badly burned by the whole VHS/Betamax thing.

*Virtual reality ride – n. A really rubbish experience that you were overcharged for in the mid-1990s, chiefly aimed at Italian teenagers wandering around Leicester Square.

**Arthouse cinema – n. A type of independent cinema which showed films no one wanted to see throughout the 1980s and early ‘90s, until ‘The Usual Suspects’ came out in 1995, which was a hit and thus confused everyone.

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40 thoughts on “There’s Only So Much New Technology You Can Embrace

  1. Andrea, you are really on the pulse of the 40 something!

    I’ve always worked in the software industry, so learning new tech stuff for work has been part of the ride, but having to learn new stuff just to live is starting to drag. I drew the line after facebook. I never tweet and only look at twitter if I’m searching for something specific. I like photography but don’t want to use Instagram to make my photos look old. In fact, I’ve just started some projects to “print out” my favourite photos because otherwise, they’re just stuck in a zillion megabytes of other photos, doing nothing. I tried a digital picture frame but realised it spends most of the time switched off. Put it back in the cupboard yesterday.

    Something I don’t get is how young people are genetically programmed to know all this stuff. I recently went for a couple of hours walk with a “young friend of mine” and she must have checked her phone every 10 minutes. I felt old and boring. When I got home, I saw that she’d updated facebook with every place we’d been and included photos.

    My son got an iPod for his birthday. He watches movies, stops the movie when he gets bored, chooses another one or plays a game or takes photos. I didn’t tell him how to do any of this. You see, I can’t tell him as he doesn’t speak English yet. He’s only 15 months old.

    • It *is* amazing how quickly kids pick things up. I hear from friends (and see online) how babies and toddlers know how to flick through photos on an iPhone, say; and how self-aware they are now when having photos taken because unlike our generation they get to see the results themselves immediately (as opposed to us, who had to to wait for (a) the film to be finished and then (b) two weeks or so to it to be processed by Truprint and the like :)). Like you, much of my career has been spent working online, so I’ve adapted to – and embraced – lots of things very quickly. But that’s partly also why I’m increasingly wanting to draw the line *personally*. (That said, like your ‘young friend’, I find myself far too addicted to my phone – and have often been tweeting and/or taking photos and/or updating my Facebook status while out and about! A fact which part of me has no problem with, and of course enjoys; but another part of me secretly wishes I wasn’t, actually, able to do.)

  2. Great read. Thanks.

    When I first started high school, I did mathematics exams using printed logarithmic charts. Calculators didn’t come in till a year later. Most people got Casio calculators. I got a Hewlett Packard calculator which used a “reverse Polish” system. The guy next to me in an exam had to borrow my calculator but couldn’t use it. That was my first VHS/Beta moment and I had the beta. I think I’ve always been the “beta”. That’s why I don’t adopt technology as quickly as some.

    • Thanks. And: I’d forgotten about Casio calculators! Of course! And yes, I think the Betamax thing definitely affected me for a while. When CDs, and then DVDs, appeared, I remember being slightly mistrustful… 😉

      • I’m completely there with you. I made the mistake of buying Minidisc just before cd recorders became incredibly affordable. I figured that I would be able to replace my old cassette tapes with minidiscs, and I started the long process of moving all my old music from tape to minidisc. I even bought two or three pre-recorded minidiscs.

        Five minutes later, mp3s and recordable CDs were hugely successful, and I was the proud owner of a niche technology.

    • I too had the HP calculator–which I had my freshman year in college, after having been on the slide rule team in HS–at the recommendation of my math teacher. Same experience with people borrowing it!

      That said, I became an early adapter over time, and have been working in cloud based computing since 2002. But I don’t care enough about some of the things to grab them. I adapt work before I adapt at home on things like facebook, twitter, etc. And some things, I find valuable at work but not for my personal life.

  3. Betamax was a better system, dammit!

  4. Reblogged this on More is More and commented:
    I also am technology-saturated. I prided myself on being current. But I think I’m Over the Hill now, at least technology. Hello golden years!

  5. I just wish all this new recent technology stopped giving us copycats of what already exists… What is the use of scattering all we like and all we love over countless new accounts and devices ? By fear of missing something or someone ?
    It has all become so pointless really when you stop and think of it, or has it ?
    Gosh, maybe I’m just over 40 myself 🙂

    • Hehe! I know what you mean – I really feel, for example, that Instagram wouldn’t give me anything I don’t already enjoy with my iPhone/Flickr/Hipstamatic/uploading to Facebook and Twitter. You have to draw a line somewhere.. and it’s possibly increasingly difficult to know what one should shun, and what could actually really enhance your life. Spotify DEFINITELY did this for me when it comes to music, for example. And likewise Twitter, which I love and enjoy very much.

  6. “It’s not the Blitz.” Funny! This whole post is like a parallel universe of my experience — and likely so many others.

    I too had to set up a Google+ account at work, which was proceeded by ignoring my Google+ account at work.

    Oh, and Songza is the new 8tracks…

    Reblogging this.

  7. Reblogged this on Drinking Tips for Teens and commented:
    If you’re at the age where you’ve had to adapt to virtually every new technology since the Telex machine and done so happily, and yet you find yourself saying, “Jesus! Enough already!” you’ll love this post from Andrea Mann.

  8. What a trip down memory lane. I remember it all. I remember that first internet experience, I was trying to grasp exactly what it would do for me. I was a naive young man. Your parents were so cool, betamax. My father resisted all technology, microwave ovens were a dream for us. He finally broke down in 1984 and got a microwave. They never got a VCR until after I moved out. They got their first computer in 2008. Now they have an Ipad and I wonder who these people are? Great writing and wonderful memories. Thank you for putting Tears for Fears on my mind. Everybody wants to rule the world…………in my head. Can’t wait to see what is next. 🙂

    • Thanks so much. That made me smile about the microwave and VCR. My parents didn’t even get a *shower* until we kids were all adults. For shame! 😉

      • I was thinking about your post today. It was so easy for my parents to say no to me. “You don’t need that.”, or “Do you think money grows on trees.” I am not sure parents ever say no to their kids today. If they do they feel really guilty about it. I have never had kids, so I am innocent, but my parents never had any guilty feelings about shutting down my dreams of modern technology in the home. Video games? Not on your life. I remember my father just laughing at the suggestion. I guess he hated frogger. 🙂

    • I think parents do still say no – it just must be SO much harder for them to do so, because there is literally so much more ‘stuff’ these days. Not just electronics but toys, clothes, TV channels… all kinds of things. I really don’t envy my friends with children when it comes to this subject..!

      • Perhaps you are right. Can you imagine having a cell phone? I used to call girls and you might have to ask their dads if they were home, which led to who’s calling? Subtle threats. Then when you go to talk I got as much privacy as the cord on the phone allowed. Tough to be cool with your whole family listening and critiquing every word. :-0

  9. Google Plus ( I have to spell everything out, can’t help it, have to), Google Drive…are you ready for Google Glasses, Andrea? The mind boggles. Or should that be googles…
    Kudos on the Beta Band anecdote too. Your own High Fidelity moment, only better.
    Just on your 80s growing up theme, had my own you know you’re 40 when moment after seeing an 80s exhibition in a museum. They had a kids bedroom full of 80s stuff. I didn’t want to leave. I think they should call your 40s the nostalgia decade – why don’t people warn you about these things?

  10. Loved this! It really is quite amazing how things have changed in one lifetime! Wow.

  11. So true. And loved how the ad for Google Chrome popped up at the start of Electric Dreams. My brain is now a curl of meta-references.

  12. YES. I’m a little younger than you are, but I went through most of the same stuff. We are the generation too old to have grown up with fast paced Internet and other tech, but too young to just retire and never have to deal with it. I find myself wanting to disconnect more and more. Not live in the woods (allergies!) but wow – just slow down already. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back to when people couldn’t contact us every single second of our lives? I’d like that.

  13. Nice post. I was a college student at the turn of the century, which makes me one of the rare people to spend half of my formative years in the pre-internet days and half with the internet in full bloom. I agree that things are moving way too fast. It’s just how our society is built. If there’s something new and shiny out there, people want it. I mean really, isn’t an iPad just an oversized iPhone. And really, if you have an iPad 1, do you need an iPad 2. According to sales, the answer is YES. As long as people want things, companies will make them…regardless of how needless they actually are. And once these things are used by enough people, the needless becomes the necessary.

  14. Great post. We didn’t get a VCR until I was about 17. This became the 1st remote in our house. And our youngest brother could stop getting duped into coming in and changing the channel. About 81 that was. We still had rotary phones then though. I defy anyone to dial one of those faster than me. Nice memories.

  15. Oh look, you have Google+ icon below your post :-).

    I have been known to be technology savvy amongst my peers but they don’t know it yet that I am getting tired of it all. The services are all the same. Wait till Microsoft comes around from under the rock and starts to push more of it’s services. It’s already beginning with their new Windows 8 for mobiles. It’s going to be yet another blitz. I am going to sit back and enjoy the ride.

    Grr… this thing won’t let me comment without necessarily logging in to WordPress with my email ID that I once used to create a WordPress account that I no longer use. So much so for technology… you can run but you can’t hide. Maybe you should allow logging in using Google+ 😉

  16. Oh, God, Andrea. Hahaha, you’re so right!

    I blog, I tweet, I FB, I use HootSuite, I can build basic websites, use InDesign and Photoshop, I even handle other people’s social media, FFS. All this on nothing but a few O-levels and a game manner.

    But the final straw came for me last week when I was at the self-serve in Tesco’s. I blithely — and I won’t lie to you, smugly — flew through the scanning and the bagging, but when it came to pay … nothing. My brain simply forgot how to do stuff. A young lad hovered near by, his spots oozing pity. I tried to force my tenner in the gap between the steel plates of the checkout because it wasn’t as if I didn’t want to pay, I just temporarily couldn’t figure out how to.

    It’s at moment like these you can see why some people fake a seizure, just so the normal balance of the word is restored. “Ah, yes,” onlookers will say, nodding sagely. “She is not old and thus by extension technically enfeebled. She has a Medical Condition. As you were, everyone.”

    I can’t help but feel this is a slippery fucking slope.

    Great post, if sobering…

    Chastity x

  17. Wow..I never owned a computer till I was 28…that too because my then “to be hubby” ..current ex hubby…bought one! Oh..and this was in the early

    We used to play those “game & watch” thingies…the ones that had just one game on them + it had a clock function too.

  18. Quote by Douglas Adams (2003) for you:
    ” Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary
    and is just a natural part of the way the world works. We no longer think
    of chairs as technology, we just think of them as chairs.
    Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five
    is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career
    in it.
    Anything invented after the age of thirty-five is against the natural
    order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it
    until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be
    alright really.”

  19. When I was nearly 16 my school got its first computer and it took up a whole room. When I went to journalism school I learnt to lay out pages manually with scissors and glue. These days I work as the editor of a lifestyle blog/website ( amongst other things and technology continues to challenge. I ‘have’ the obvious ones but don’t always understand them (Facebook is the trickiest, Twitter my favourite, Google Plus still a steep learning curve). Luckily my 15 year old daughter sets me straight if and when I go wrong. It might have been hard growing up without the technology, but is it even tougher to grow up with it? I really don’t fancy SnapChatting to distant friends at breakfast, which is as normal to my daughter as eating a bowl of cereal…

    • Absolutely… I truly wonder what it must be like for children (and babies, even!) growing up in a world where SO much is changing and evolving and being developed SO quickly. (PS What’s SnapChatting?!)

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