Unplanned Obsolescence

Seven years out of Stanford, I'm in serious need of an upgrade.

January/February 2013

Reading time min

Unplanned Obsolescence

Illustration: Cathy Gendron

My life at Stanford, circa 2004, brings to mind Jimmy Fallon in his Saturday Night Live role as Nick Burns, Your Company's Computer Guy. There's a hapless, well-meaning cube dweller asking an innocent question. From under his scraggly mustache, Fallon barks "MOVE!" his voice heavy with boredom and contempt, as he shoves the poor guy aside and starts affectedly typing away to resolve the issue. "Oh, and by the way," he snipes, "you're welcome!"

That was us, the technology bourgeoisie of Stanford. Not the ones running Linux or inventing Instagram, we were the ones that got click-wheel iPods for Christmas and feigned surprise when a friend back home hadn't heard of Pandora. We remember the day Facebook was launched on campus and exploded overnight. We knew people who worked for Google and we bragged about our Gmail accounts.

Because we were secluded on the same island as the real movers and shakers of the Internet world, we techie-bougies learned by default. It was proximity (and beta-testing invitations) that allowed people like me, an English/BioSci double major who never set foot in CS104, who knew not a word of JavaScript, to absorb the cutting edge by osmosis, and stay afloat on the wave of whatever Wired was writing about.

Back home, I would roll my eyes as I explained to my father that no, is not a website, it's an email address, MOVE! I scoffed at those who hadn't switched yet to Firefox and marveled over rumors of an Apple phone. I may not have been the one setting the course, but I sure as heck felt like I ran with the pack, and I was damn smug about it!

Then I graduated. In June 2005, I left the Farm and have since watched my technological prowess decompose like a pumpkin after Halloween.  

Fast forward seven years and now everyone is on Facebook, and with horror I see myself without a single claim to fame, having fallen far behind the curve that today's 10- and 20-somethings are running. Without the technology elite circling around me, I am heading straight toward the cliff of obsoleteness—and at exponentially faster speeds with each passing year.

When I read how more young people nowadays are connecting via Twitter and Tumblr instead of Facebook, I realized I had never even heard of Tumblr. What's more, when I looked into it, I did not understand how it worked or why someone would want to use it. In that moment, I realized that as far as technology is concerned, my horse has finally left Jane Stanford's barn.  

So I am coming clean: My name is Christine and I am 29 years old. I am a Stanford graduate who doesn't own an iPad, I haven't got a Quora account, and I am wary about Square. Hashtags sound like a breakfast food, and cloud computing makes absolutely no sense to me no matter how many times I hear it explained.

It seems technology has accelerated not just the spread of information, but the aging process itself. So, Mom, Dad, would you please scoot over? I take back every eye roll I ever made over your shoulder at the computer. It's time for me to join the club.

Christine Ghatan, '05, is a physician in Los Angeles.

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