When it comes to tech nerds, I fall somewhere in the middle. I’m fascinated by technology, I’m an active member of just about every social media outlet there is, and I work in a pretty techy field. (And I live about 20 miles north of Silicon Valley, but we won’t mention that.) At the same time, I’m pretty analog, compared to other late-twenties smartphone-enabled nerds out there. I can see the value in paying with things from my phone but I don’t necessarily do it. I’m a pretty major Twitter user but when I’m out with friends, I try to keep it under wraps and enjoy the company of the people I’m with in real life. I’m far from an early adopter, signing on to my first smartphone in late 2009 and still not possessing a tablet of any sort. I buy expensive gadgets once and completely run them into the ground before I acquire another. I’m a little doubtful of technology sometimes – just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
My favorite of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules is “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food”. That quote comes back to me all the time, and not necessarily just relating to food. Before my grandmother passed, she was fond of reminding me that Windows were something you opened, and mice were what you threw out of them. (Don’t come after me, PETA, I didn’t say it.) She never touched a computer in her life and somehow managed to get by. I try to find myself amazed by the basic technology in my life, but I’m just so used to certain things that it’s really difficult. In a recent Louis C.K. special, he summed that idea up much better than I ever could:
‘I had to sit on the runway for 40 minutes.’ Oh my god, really? What happened then, did you fly through the air like a bird, incredibly? Did you soar into the clouds, impossibly?
I’ve run into a couple of situations in the past week that just can’t be ignored, though – sometimes technology just smacks me in the face. Here are my favorites:
- I’ve spent the past month working for a great design firm in Larkspur, CA. Larkspur is pretty close to where I live, but I don’t have a car and the work I do is so video-heavy that it sort of begs for a very powerful computer, so I’ve been doing all of the work from home. My manager and I feel like we work next to one another, thanks to Dropbox, iChat, Google Docs and our mobile phones. We’re sharing a folder directly from our respective computers with one another. When we save something there, on our personal hard drives, the other person also has it saved on their hard drive in a matter of minutes. We’re 20 miles away from one another and not touching the same network, but we’re sharing files instantly. We talk on the phone and IM one another all day and communicate through a shared spreadsheet where we can watch one another’s notes in real time. As soon as one of us has a thought, the other one is able to process it, respond accordingly and move on.
- A friend invited me to dinner at 6:00 last Tuesday, and I had a somewhat important deadline to meet. I knew I’d be able to finish up the work in time, but this file takes around an hour to render, which meant even if I finished before I needed to leave, I wouldn’t be able to check the final output until at least 7:00. Pushing dinner back would have been inconvenient for everyone else, but skipping dinner just to sit around my house and wait for my file to be viewable seemed like a waste of time. The solution? Left the house at 5:45, rendered the file straight to Dropbox, and viewed the animation on my phone when it finished rendering. (I did excuse myself from the table and let everyone know ahead of time that I was going to have to step away for a work obligation; my friends are also workaholics so this sort of behavior is often allowable.) I was then able to text my manager and let him know that everything was kosher, all without having to miss time with my friends or panic and run back home early.
- I was asked to come in and meet a team at a potential new freelance gig. This job is pretty transit-adjacent (a 30 minute walk from the closest BART station, or a short bike ride) and is only ten miles south of my house, so it’s also bicycle-friendly. But either of those options would take me about an hour each way, and it was a very busy day for me. It would only be a 15 minute drive, but I don’t own a car. Zipcar to the rescue! I pulled my phone out of my pocket, opened an application and booked a rental car for two hours. The entire process took about 45 seconds and a car was waiting for me one block east of my house the next day when I needed it.
- The Zipcar experience alone is fascinating. You log on to a computer or pull out your phone, select a car, walk to a location within a couple of blocks of your current location, wave a special card over the windshield, get in and drive. I’m not a power user by any stretch of the imagination; my Zipcar trips are really for family visits, airport pickups and occasional pre-party grocery store runs. I use it every single time I need a car, and that has never once exceeded $1500 per year for me to drive a brand new car whenever I want. I can’t remotely imagine owning a vehicle at this point.
- I’m a special events bartender at a beer bar. (This basically means I don’t mind crowds, am terribly friendly, and am therefore a somewhat ideal candidate for facing a group of angry people that have been waiting ten minutes for a drink.) I worked a big event last night that was only made possible through social media. And this wasn’t the first time, either. It was “advertised” via Twitter and Facebook. The local blogs (Eater, SFoodie, etc.) picked it up and wrote about it. People came in to this neighborhood bar to eat food from vendors they had never heard of, because they saw it on the internet. So many of my friends’ businesses simply would not thrive without Twitter.
- Related: Every time I bartend, at least five people come up and introduce themselves, and they lead out with a variation on “You’re jrizzo, right?” (Occasionally it’s changed to “at” jrizzo.) Say what you will about social media detaching all of us from one another, but I’ve met more people in this city over the past three years via Twitter than I would have by any other method.
What I love the most about all of these things is that they’re examples of technology bridging a gap and making things better. Is it rude to step away in the middle of dinner to check a quick email on my phone? Probably, but if the alternative is entirely missing dinner in favor of work, I would rather my friends pull their phone out for two minutes at the dinner table any day. And I’m so grateful that somehow, posting inane status updates about what beer I’m drinking or what silly thing my boyfriend said has made my name and face recognizable to complete strangers when I pour a beer for them.
So, how about you? What’s working so well, it just blows you away?