As I reach my late-middle 50s, I am, for the first time, feeling old. I don't mean physically old. I have aches and pains, but I've been blessed. My health has been good and I jog my regular four miles at about the same pace I have for the last 25 years. (Very slow is an easily sustainable speed.)
The old that I'm feeling lately comes from within: I'm getting out of date, and I don't care.
I was at my 14-year-old daughter Annie's volleyball game recently. It was 10 minutes before starting time, one of the girls wasn't there and we were in danger of forfeiting. "I left my cell phone in the car,'' I told our coach. "Give me yours and I'll call the girl.'' The coach handed me a phone with so many rows of teeny-weeny keys, I couldn't tell which were the ones you press to phone somebody. I ran to my car, got my cell phone — which I'd picked out specifically because it didn't do too much — and made the call.
Somewhere between the cell phone and BlackBerry, I stopped. I pay my bills by mail, not online. I listen to music on a CD, not an iPod. I e-mail, I don't IM or friend people on Facebook or Twitter.
My twins, Sam and Adam, college freshmen, have informed me that if I call their cell phones and they don't answer, I am not to leave a voice message. It takes too long for them to access. They are way too busy there at college. I'm supposed to hang up and they'll know it's me by the "Missed Call'' signal. They will then call back when they are not so incredibly busy there at college.
Better yet, I should text them.
I know several parents who have taken up texting their kids for just this reason.
My feeling on this is, forget that. I'm paying for their phones. For that matter, I'm paying for college. I don't need to text; they need to make time from their very busy lives there at college to listen to Dad's 10-second voicemail message.
My wife, Sandy, isn't this way. She is up-to-the-minute. She has a BlackBerry and a Kindle; she texts, she's on Facebook, she has an iPod. She was very nice about explaining to me what Twittering is — kind of a high-tech haiku, I gather.
While I'm still being startled awake by our clock radio, her morning alarm is a heavenly chiming sound coming from one of those remarkable little electronic things, which, unfortunately, is often buried at the bottom of her pocketbook in the living room, two floors below our bedroom.
After a long day at work at a computer, she'll come home and go to Facebook. "I just heard from a girl I haven't seen since kindergarten,'' she'll shout to me. "She wants to know if I'm still athletic.''
I think of kindergarten as a dark, confusing time, best not revisited.
I don't know if this is an age difference: Sandy is eight years younger. Or a temperament difference: She's much handier than I am, loves gadgets. Or an existential difference: She expects things to go right, and is angry and disappointed when they don't. I'm amazed if anything in life goes right.
The new technology is easy to mock. But it is surely coming, always has been and always will be. And before you know it, what seemed like the latest annoying contrivance will be essential. A lot of it is remarkable. Through Facebook, Ben, my oldest and still in college, posted photos of himself surfing in Australia last winter, and because Annie had friended him, I sat in our den each night and saw where my son had spent that day on the other side of the world.
Even as I joke and resist, I know it is the beginning of my being left behind. And yet — and this is the old part — I'm having trouble making myself care. It's in my best interest to care, but I don't.
I didn't want a cell phone, didn't want to be reachable anywhere, anytime. But at some point, critical mass had been reached in our society and it wouldn't be acceptable for a reporter not to have one.
A few years back I was talking by phone to one of my journalistic heroes, Nat Hentoff, and asked for his e-mail address. I was surprised when he said he didn't do e-mail. How, I wondered, could a reporter not, and I thought of that again, in January, when I heard that Mr. Hentoff, at 83, had been let go by the Village Voice after 50 years.
As I sit here on the cusp between late-mid 50s and late 50s, I think of all the technological changes I've seen. In the 1970s, as an eastern Kentucky correspondent for the Courier-Journal of Louisville, I traveled Appalachia using one of the first portable computers — a Teleram that weighed 50 pounds and could transmit seven inches of copy at a time, via telephone.
Some progress is progress, but as you get old, you come to feel, a lot is just change; no better, maybe worse. Years ago on a Saturday morning, I was watching the kids at a swim team practice with a friend who is in the carpet business. He had one of those new mobile phones that was just becoming fashionable, and the thing just kept ringing. Finally I asked how he could have so many emergencies in one morning.
"Mike,'' he said, "there's no such thing as a carpet emergency.''
He'd joined the 24/7 age. I hadn't yet arrived. Lucky me.
I watched my mother, who died a few years ago at 92, lose interest in the next new thing. She'd been born with radio. TV — particularly color TV — was more than she'd ever expected to see in her lifetime, and I couldn't get her past that. She couldn't see the point in cable beyond basic, because all she needed were three TV stations. Couldn't see the point of the DVD player my brother got her, since the three TV stations had movies. Didn't need a CD player since the radio had music. Each time I'd try, she'd resist and I'd get angry.
I thought it was her stubbornness that made me mad, but in retrospect, maybe I was mad she was getting old.
Now that I've started the process myself, I understand better. I was born when TV stations ran test patterns from midnight to 6 a.m. E-mail, the cell phone, 400 cable channels — it's more than I ever expected to see in my lifetime. It's more than enough. As my mother used to say, how much information does one person need?