ELDER MUSIC: The Beethoven Obsession
Elders and Marijuana

Crabby Old Lady Laments the Future...

...at least as The New York Times reports it.

In the past, predictions have usually usually appeared as science fiction fantasies of life 50 or a 100 years hence and it's always fun – and funny - when such prophecies are dredged up and compared to what really happened.


Nowadays, the next future arrives even before the current one has come to fruition so that a peek just ten years forward can be awe-inspiring (or terrifying, depending on your point of view).

That's what The New York Times did on Saturday in a gigantic infographic of “what far-off technology will be commonplace in a decade” based on the predictions of seven people the paper says are “driving this transformation” of technological change.

Here's a little piece of that graphic.


Let Crabby Old Lady say at the outset that the infographic, with its simplistic images and soundbite text, is enough for her to worry about where The Times newspaper itself is heading. Why didn't they write a traditional news story, Crabby wonders, with words and paragraphs and, oh you know, old-fashioned news virtues like context and perspective?

Crabby was immediately reminded of Jan Adams' comment last week in a story on this blog about elders and technology:

”My concern about the direction of technology is that providers of consumer tech goodies seem to be leading us away from using devices with keyboards.

“Since I use a computer to write...I don't like a future in which a tablet or a smartphone becomes the expected appliance and what I consider a 'real computer' becomes a rarity. I sure don't see myself communicating in videos.”

For a long time now, Crabby too has been concerned about disappearing text and, therefore, actual thought.

In addition to those faddish, facile infographics that pop up all over the web in place of writing, increasing numbers of news websites are posting video without providing a written version of the report.

Is Crabby Old Lady the last person who understands that in an era when virtually everyone complains of too much information to plow through, it is three or four or ten times faster to read a narrative than to watch a video?

Or, of greater concern, that the medium of video does not allow for detail and nuance and that even at their best, video reports are only as good as the reporter, and there aren't many good ones these days, especially online.

Harumph, says Crabby.

Among The Times' infographic predictions are, unfortunately, these:

“The computer mouse will be replaced. Think touch, swipe, rich hand gestures."

“What technology will seem antiquated in a decade? Email, computer keyboards, cash, handheld phones.”

"...people will wear computers in the form of contact lenses, bracelets or clothing and walk up to any wall and instantly have full access to all of your cloud data and services.”

Just how, as Jan asks, is anyone going to write anything without keyboards?

Crabby might settle (reluctantly) for voice-to-text (if they'd ever improve it enough to work as well as keyboards). But no, we've got texting on teeny cellphone screens so that spelling and grammar and – again – actual thought beyond “how r u” is already disappearing.

To be fair to The Times, there are a few intriguing predictions that Crabby wants to see earlier rather than later. Before she dies would be good:

“Personalized medicine. Imagine a unique drug that’s printed for you and your condition based on your individual gene sequencing.”

"Getting a top-end college education without going to a physical campus."

"Cars driven by computers instead of humans.”

That last one, if the cars are generally affordable, could permanently remove elders' understandable fear of giving up their car keys.

On the other hand, for some reason The Times lists this one under the header, The Era of Progress:

“Ubiquitous video recording and surveillance.”

And do you think The New York Times in this infographic edited by David Leonhardt (yes, Crabby Old Lady intended to call him out) really meant to place this prediction, too, under The Era of Progress:

”Women are only 25-percent of the tech industry. As it grows in stature and wealth, women risk losing their influence in our society.”

But it strikes Crabby that 24/7 surveillance and decreased influence of women are beside the point if people stop knowing how to write because if you cannot write, you cannot think and god knows our world needs some smart thinking.

Crabby is perfectly aware that every generation of elders believes that younger ones are going to hell in a handbasket and she is more than eager to learn that her fears for the future have been a misuse of her time.

She just hopes she dies before they take away her keyboard.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: Butch, the Easter Chicken


Let me tell you, I hate texting! Though I've tried it with the teeny-tiny keyboard on my cell phone, it's just impossible. Keyboard is far too small for actual touch-typing (Qwerty) and hunt/peck is frustrating to someone who almost types as fast as I think.

That said, I do like the speech-to-text when I absolutely must text (usually to family who seem to all love texting!). It doesn't really have punctuation or sentence structure, but simply as a means of very short messages, works better than actual typing on a teeny cell phone keyboard.

Overall, though I agree that a keyboard is necessary. I just like one that is large enough to actually touch-type on!

The one thing that all of those so-called futurists fail to add to the equation is cost vs. function. Is the new technology going to be affordable enough for the average person to buy and, is it an item we really need. While there will always be those people who must have the latest and greatest piece of techno crap, most of us like to "wait and see". The human mind has no limit to its creativity, it's the wallet that's often stuck in another century. And by the way, they will have to pry my mouse out of my cold dead hand before I give it up.

I don't see email going away for business use, but I am surprised to see how little it is used for everyday communication. I had to learn to text, and I've gotten fairly good at it. I had to learn because my kids only respond reliably to texts.

Mostly, I don't like video stories either. But if it is an interview, then a video does let you hear exactly what someone says in context, if the video is properly edited.

Predictions for ten years out are usually wrong. I don't see much to complain about with the use of graphics on this sort of puff piece. But for an informative or hard news piece, I do want as much text as I can get.

It's all to take our minds off the fact that the oil is running out, we are using resources we don't have, climate change is upon us and will get worse, the human race is hellbent on self-destruction (and on complete ruination of the planet) and technology is NOT going to save us. OR to provide these interesting future toys that none of us really want anyway. Rome is burning and this is just one of the stupid ways in which we are fiddling.

I'm not a big video fan, I mostly skip ahead to the written version, no written version? I'm likely to skip it entirely.

I like and use email too. What can I say, I like to write letters too. And I got a mouse for my laptop. I do text, slowly and carefully. I mostly use it for communication with my kids and grandkids.

I, too, like the keyboard. And I also appreciate that "it is three or four or ten times faster to read a narrative than to watch a video." Or listen to an audio, I might add, which is why I prefer to read my books rather than listen to them on tape. But the worst thing about the future, if you ask me, is that ... I won't be around to see it.

Last week, because I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and signed some list at some time out of curiosity, I got a chance to be a guinea pig for some interface designers at a big tech company. This consisted of sitting with an interviewer in front of a big monitor, keyboard and mouse and being asked to accomplish various tasks using the information on the screens. The designers watched in another room and sometimes broke in with audible questions.

I greatly enjoyed the moment when I announced "I would not look at the video! -- it takes too long."

In general, I think designers are tempted by the reality that we all learn differently to give us information in multiple ways on the same screen. We each deal with this by mentally blocking out parts of what we see. This mostly causes us problems when what we are accustomed to block out becomes the design fad of the moment.

Is anyone else as annoyed as I am by the current fad of breaking up what would once have been sequential articles/posts into annoying blocks? Like this. I have to really want to read the content (and skip the podcasts and videos) to bother with such sites. This design mode seems to be spreading.


I recently saw a movie called "Idiocracy" starring Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph.

It was no Academy Award contender but it made the same point you are talking about here. The dumbing down of America!

The two people in the film were ordinary low ranking military people who were chosen by their superiors to be frozen and locked in a capsule for one year.

To get an idea of their intelligence, Maya asks Luke if he thinks it's safe and he replies,"Of course it's safe,they tried it on dogs and all."

Well, something goes wrong and they stay frozen for 500 years. When they are awakened,the people they meet are so DUMB that Maya and Luke are now the most intelligent people on Earth.

The picture goes on to have a whole lot to say about the dumbing down of America..If it weren't so true it would be very funny; but I'm afraid it's true.

My concern is that all these wonderful individualized medicines will be too expensive for the vast majority of us to afford. And as long as insurance companies can dictate what medicines we can take, it won't matter how individualized it is.

Ah yes, the individualized meds. Prescriptions are based on male & younger people rather than both sexes, weight, age, & metabolism appropriate doses. I won't be holding my breath for affordable tailor mades meds in my lifetime.

Funny, but I got an e-mail today with predictions that were wrong. Some very smart people couldn't see the future of things we use today and this will probably be true of the Times predictions.

I hate typing on tiny keyboards. I wonder what will happen to the hearing impaired if there is no longer a text to read.

I do text, but often it goes back and forth so much that a phone call would be faster. But for anything more than a text (140 characters) I need a real keyboard - as a high school newspaper editor I learned to "think on a keyboard" and have done so ever since. Perhaps the next couple of generations can change their way of working, but I sure hope we don't loose all longer forms of communication. And I am so tired of seeing parents busy with their smart phones while their young children get no attention.

Aside from my many great fears for the future and where I see us going, especially when I watch the young people of today and their work ethic and general arrogance and their expectations...I just want to make a comment on voice to text..I spend my late nights doing medical transcription and it is voice to text....It is a system that cannot think critically...it is all editing and when the vitamin Poly-Vi-sol comes up as "drive by assault" you know you have a system that could make horrendous medical errors...It takes much longer to edit than it does to just listen and type. They have a long way to go technologically with this...

I especially liked this prediction ...
“Start new businesses that create jobs and solve real problems. Also, someone could create a Khan Academy that focuses on professional and vocational skills.”
Reid Hoffman

Now, if humans and other living things can just survive the smog and other forms of pollution that we are so happily and blithely creating in our self-destructive rush to the future, we might just succeed in surviving at least somewhat intact to appreciate some of these innovations. Sighhhh ....

Since the touch screen is already here, why not focus on the grace and beauty of hand movements that we're learning, so we can take up ballet as we become ageless from that personalized medicine?

Must take issue with your comment that if you can't write you can't think. That might be fine for a writer to say, but different people express themselves in different ways, say a painter or musician. The manifestation of thinking does not always have to come through the written word

I am a hunt-and-peck typist. and a crappy one at that. I predict that the keyboard and the mouse will be history in the next ten years, to be replaced by personal digital assistants that understand our individual voice and speech. As for the touch screen, it might be useful for those whose jobs require it.

I so agree that actual writing--unlike texting--requires thinking. And that thinking seems to be in short supply these days.

The proliferation of texting is disturbing in various ways. One is that these days I often see a young couple at a restaurant not talking to each other--just sitting there texting other people.

Or young adults so absorbed in texting that they cross the street without looking. I worry that I might run into such an oblivious young person, and it will be deemed my fault because I am old.

I prefer text because I find it harder to remember things I see on video. Taking notes and pausing the video repeatedly is a hassle.

I usually just skip video articles entirely. Not only does it take more time to view the video, but the sound is different for almost every one so there's the time to adjust the sound. Then there are the never-ending ads. If it's really something I want to know, I'll search out the written version.

Long live keyboards--at least until voice technology is equally reliable, which is not yet the case. I hope texting as a means of actually transmitting information eventually disappears. It may be fine for sending short messages but that's about all. I've always liked to write, and as several other readers point out, texting involves very little thinking and, in my view, it is NOT writing.

Pessimistic though it may sound, I agree with Marian that most of this hi-tech c&#p is simply fiddling while Rome continues to burn around us. The Pacific NW isn't known for tornados, but we had one yesterday (small but still a tornado), and it's probably not the last.

You've hit on something.

Is the written language uniquely qualified to structure thought?

I had thought so. Now I wonder, for future generations.

Well, years ago . . . let's say starting about 1954 the 'future' taxonomies in education were predicted to be tactile - empirical - kenesthectic (take your pick). Though today I have read that only 5% of those of us actually learn through this method. I disagree, however, with the percentage. It is by far in the majority range (70 - 80%).

Do any of these sound familiar? Learn by doing. "Show me how, and I can do it." "Give me fish and I'll eat for day. Show me how to fish, and I'll eat for a lifetime. A picture is worth a thousand words.

As I wrote training materials, the design was always picture on the left page - brief (bullet text) on the right page.

When in the classroom, it was noted that the average person had the attention span of about 10 - 15 minutes. Surprising that today that's about the same period between TV commercials.

Sorry to say, we are all conditioned (behavorial response theory) to look then do.

When you think about opening up a box containing a new gadget - do you read the instructions first? Few do.

Ask Tech Support to interpret the instructions, and they'll have no idea what they admit. "Those were old directions. Just do as I say!"

So much today that is written in books is out of date by the time it is published. We should only be reading manuscripts and abstracts today!

Ronni, fewer and fewer read and do . . .

"Let me get my hands on it, and I'll make it work!"

(BTW: What's that 1-800 number for this new gadget I've got?)

Tofler wrote a book, "Future Shock" back in the 60s (I think).

In it was prediction then that there would soon be a separation in the societal masses; similar to what had happened during the Industrial Age.

In the new world order there would be a class of learned people (those who could read and write) - much like the Scribes in the Middle Ages.

I am afraid that has already come to fruition.

If full-sized keyboards are bypassed, I will be giving up the computer. I hate texting and using a small keyboard or touch screen is no better.

I too am not a video fan, and I prefer my desktop computer or laptop. I don't own a tablet and using my phone to surf the web is frustrating as hell. However, my son, would rather watch a video or find an image for most things.

Do you know that many schools are no longer teaching cursor and that 3rd graders are learning how to type even if only with a couple of fingers.

My 4th grader great-granddaughter types, manages a computer, a tablet, a cell phone as a pro. She and her brother get their school assignments via a school website they access and return papers to.

So many of the predictions of what life would be like in 2000 have failed to materialize, and I believe the same will be shown in 2025.

The one thing that will remain however will be the increase in Pentagon budgets and divisiveness in our country.

I have learned to text and it does mean more communication going back and forth between my family and me. But I refuse to give up punctuation! If the makes me old fashioned, then so be it. At least people won't have to struggle to know what I meant to say.

Too bad yesterday's blog didn't get to me until Tuesday since this one really touches a nerve. It's not that I have a problem with texting, which works for some things, although I despise Twitter and the whole idea of compressing any kind of intelligent thought into 140 characters. From the examples I've seen, e.g. in Huffington Post's "Twitterati," tweeting is for idiots. But the passing of email sorely pains me and I see it getting closer all the time. I lamented the loss of actual letter writing and that is now practically obsolete. Email was the only substitute we had, but I have been criticized for my letter length emails by family and friends. Too much to read, they say, even my history professor son. My response is, what the hell are future historians going to study if there is no written record of what people did or thought except in contentless sound bites or cat videos?

Futurism is obviously not an exact science and many predictions haven't come true---yet. But unfortunately it's often just a matter of time. The computer-driven dumbing down of the mass of society is almost unstoppable. Like another commenter, I liked "Idiocracy" for depicting the consequences of that. Another look into the future of a computerized world is "Super Sad True Love Story" by Gary Shteyngart. I am already seeing far too much of it coming true and it was only written a few years ago.

Ronni, I too have noticed that "news" is increasingly disseminated via video clip, without written narrative. I hate that! I vastly prefer to "read" my news. Indeed, I simply love to read. I hope the written word, with its detail and nuance, does not vanish.

I agree with you that "[i]f you can't write you can't think." Not only that, but "if you can't think, you can't write." That probably explains what is happening. :o)


The comments to this entry are closed.