Is Easier Necessarily Better With The Advent Of Advanced Technology?
Ever have your parents tell you that they had to walk six miles each way to school in the snow and uphill both ways? During my childhood years, in the late 1950s and 1960s, my parents told plenty of stories about how easy life was for me compared to their experiences of growing up during the Great Depression. Now I often find myself playing the role of my parents with the podiatry residents that I help train, educating them on how tough things were for us older podiatrists.
For example, our older generation of podiatrists had to bang out term papers on either a manual or electric typewriter since personal computers were still in their infancy in the 1970s. We used “correction tape” for typing errors and used “carbon paper” to make a “carbon copy” of our documents. Most of today’s podiatry students and residents have never seen a piece of “carbon paper” and many don’t know what the “CC” abbreviation means in their daily e-mails. Many have also never used or even seen a manual or electric typewriter except in a museum. Today, the process of writing, editing, spell checking and printing documents is so easy, fast and inexpensive for today’s podiatry students and residents, there is no comparison to what we older podiatrists had to go through to produce a good quality paper.
In addition, most of the families from my generation of podiatrists had a 20-volume set of A-Z books that occupied nearly a three-foot wide swath of the home bookshelves. This “center of intelligence” for the family home was called “the encyclopedia.” If we needed information on a certain subject for a school project or paper, or just for our own knowledge, we would either pull one of the encyclopedia volumes off the home bookshelf or we would visit the nearest public or school library to search for the information we were seeking.
Today, podiatry students and residents type a word or phrase into their smartphones or computers that spit out thousands of references on the subject within a few seconds. In other words, the time necessary to research subjects for today’s podiatry students and residents is only a fraction of the time required by us older podiatrists during our school years.
Likewise, preparing to give lectures for podiatry seminars in the mid-1980s was very different and difficult for us older podiatrists. In that era, the state-of-the-art presentation media were photographic “slides” that we projected onto lecture hall screens. To make a single slide with words on it, we had to photograph a piece of paper that had printed words on it or spend $10 per slide to have a slide production service do the work for us at least a few days in advance before our lectures.
Lecturing from photographic slides also meant, when traveling to distant seminars, that we would need to organize hundreds of slides into “slide trays” for the “slide projectors” at the conference. For example, in my first international lecture in 1991, I packed onto the plane a whole extra bag that contained four slide trays for my lectures. Conversely, for today’s podiatry students and residents, software such as PowerPoint allows a lecturer to not only edit the text and images on lecture slides only minutes before his or her presentation, but also allows easy transport of every slide, photo and video in the lecture on a small USB flash drive that can easily fit into a pocket.
Upon consideration of the above, not all things were so bad for the older generation of podiatrists. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, we were allowed to ride our bikes all over our neighborhoods after school or on weekends as long as we were home before dark or for dinner. Adult and childhood obesity were not epidemics. We had safe and civil school environments as the rule, not the exception. Likewise, our conversations around the dinner table involved family discussion, not tweeting, texting and web surfing on smartphones.
For the younger podiatrists, residents and students, are things better than they used to be for us older podiatrists? I suppose the technological advances of the past two to three decades have been mostly helpful, time saving and convenient. Personally, however, the benefit of today’s advanced technology will never replace the richness of my youth. I wouldn’t want to have grown up in any other era.
Dr. Kirby is an Adjunct Associate Professor within the Department of Applied Biomechanics at the California School of Podiatric Medicine at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, Calif. He is in private practice in Sacramento, Calif.