Is 30 The Breaking Point for Technology?

Computer scientist Alan Kay (the guy who invented the stackable-windows computer interface we all use today) once defined technology as “anything invented after you were born” to make the point that people usually don’t consider “old” things like automobiles or chairs to be technology. For my parents, 8-track tapes were technology, but they aren’t for me. But  MP3s are technology to me, while my kids won’t think of them that way.

Way back in 1999 Douglas Adams extended Kay’s definition and outlined three classifications that people use (often unknowingly) when they think about “technology.” (his words are in quotes, I’ve added the bold titles to clarify it)

  1. Before Me = Not Technology: “everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal”
  2. Me + 30 = Awesome Technology: “anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;”
  3. Me + 30 + 1 = Evil Technology: “anything that gets invented after you’re thirty 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.”

So what do you think? Have you seen this play our in your church or job? Do you ever personally think this way? I’m 31 and now that I have 2 small kids, I sometimes find myself more wary of newer technology compared to things I grew up with. How about you?

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John Dyer

In my day job, I work at Dallas Theological Seminary, and at night I write Bible software for countries whose leaders could be called "overlords." This one time, I wrote a book about technology and Christian faith. You can find out more about what I'm up to at http://j.hn/.

18 thoughts on “Is 30 The Breaking Point for Technology?”

  1. Hello! I’m 29 and married with four kids and for at least the past 5 years I have found myself in category 3. I attribute this to my somewhat skeptical nature but wonder if my tendency to be a late adopter is a coping mechanism for being content with what I have. Technology = $$$

    Also, nice Douglas Adams reference;-)

  2. I’m 58 and like to be at the leading edge of what’s new and exciting. I do almost all my reading digitally, use software exclusively in writing my sermons (dual monitor set-up) and enjoy being one of the early adapters in new gadgets. I don’t know if I’m an exception or the rule.

  3. I’m 35 and fall into Category 2…

    … but I peer over at Category3 and think, “oh my, that grass is sure is green.”

    For example, since getting off Windows and been working professionally (IT, writing, studying, etc) on a Mac for 3 years, I am getting to that place of “don’t move my cheese” i.e. everything works fine—don’t mess it up. If it is not intuitive and easy to use, I will yell at technology, “THIS IS SHEER MADNESS!”.

    Just don’t move my cheese, please.

  4. Even people who explicitly think about technology tend to focus on new technologies. The number of Christian books on living in a “digital world” is enormous compared to the number of Christian books about things like indoor plumbing and refrigeration even though the latter two have probably had as great or greater an impact on how we live our lives than digital technologies.

    Unfortunately how this plays out is that people tend to uncritically use old technologies. Or they place new technologies on a pedestal making them seem more important than they are. One of the most important technologies in the world right now is corrugated iron because of its use in housing in poor countries. But most people in the US wouldn’t think twice about corrugated iron.

    1. I agree with Eric. I think older technology (normal) is nearly invisible to us. We hardly think about listening to the radio when we’re in the car, but that’s an extraordinary thing to do in the history of the world.

      I suppose we do move between those stages, whether at 30 or some other age. In spite of working in technology I often gravitate to the third stage. For me, it is the familiar that is comfortable and sufficient to my happiness. Having to learn something else (the new blue-ray player) to get the home entertainment system to work just seems like a chore.

      Perhaps a related question is: why does a particular tech lose its”gee-whiz” factor?

  5. I’m in my sixties, I love technology for the things it lets me do. Writing lets me free speech from time and space restrictions, so does a combination of MP3 and Internet when I podcast (but differently). The “differently” interests me :)

    I’ve never thought any technology evil in itself, but I know humans will find evil ways to use it.

  6. Brilliant! Thanks for posting this. I definitely feel a sort of ‘back in my day’ attitude to technology is growing as I near 30.

    At the same time, Douglas Adam’s categories sound suspiciously like the the quip usually attributed, rightly or wrongly, to Winston Churchill: “Anyone under 30 that isn’t liberal has no heart. Anyone over 30 that isn’t a conservative has no brain.” :p

  7. When you’re young, everything is new and wondrous.
    I think when you’re raising children, your protective antennae are up on overtime.
    When you have your kids raised, you’ll either try new things or you won’t. Working at a library in FL, (LOTS of old people) I see both types.

  8. Perhaps it’s something like:
    “Once I start thinking about things a lot (kids tending to bring focus), things that quickly bring me my wants with little fuss are awesome technology, whilst things that quickly bring lots of people their wants to the point of perceiving those wants as needs could be evil technology”.

    At least, I like most technology. I think most of us still consider anything using electricity to be technology: e.g. 8-track, walkman, cd-player, mp3 player. But we can start to worry when we don’t have an immediate intuitive grip on the innards of something or its implications.

    Just some thoughts…

  9. I don’t have much grip on the functionning of the phone services, but I use them happily. I don’t know much about hybridisation and plant breeding, but I’ll plant the seeds. And who (apart from some engineers in the companies that make them) understands the technology used in MP3 players…

    There are probably some effects from familiarity and understanding, I know I like gadgets more than the less engineering-minded members of the household. There are probably some effects due to age also. But I think the biggest influences on whether we are happy using technology are:
    does it do something I want (I love computers and mobile phones because I have a poor memory and lousy handwriting skills)
    how easy is it to use (I did not bother to learn to use the VCR, other members of the family did, and I find lots of buttons confusing, but I have learned the Freeview STB, because others have not, and it’s a bit like a PC so easier to learn).

  10. I think that age is sliding older and older…but for the average american 30 seems about right.

    In a more progressive culture like we have here in Austin I would say that number is closer to 38 years old.

    I imagine there is a correlation between average age people get married or have kids and when they start to resist technological progress.

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