For years in my youth, I was the "go to" guy for operating the family's technical equipment, be it tape recorders, record players, or even our Super 8 movie projector. As I grew older, I eventually relinquished my title to my son who is adept at setting up our High Def TV, cable box, DVD/VHS player, cell/smart phones, and other such devices. It was only when I realized we were as dependent on my son, as my family was on me years ago, that I began to ask why.
It is a long accepted theory that younger people tend to embrace and adapt to technology faster than seniors. I am reminded of the story told by comedian Jay Leno where he purchased a remote control for his parents' television set. On a return visit to their home in Boston, Jay couldn't locate the device and asked his father of its whereabouts. The father informed Jay they kept it locked up in a nearby drawer as he considered it a complicated piece of equipment and wanted to be sure it "wouldn't go off accidentally." Despite Jay's attempts to assure him it wasn't a phaser that could burn the house down, the father was unmoved and kept the device safely locked up. Whereas we tend to accept complexity in our youth, we grow abrasive to it as we grow older under the mantra, "simplify, simplify, simplify."
In our youth we are more inclined to accept complexity as we assume it is a natural part of the learning process. As we mature, we learn to handle more responsibilities and assignments much like a juggler takes on additional objects to be thrown into the air. We keep juggling more and more objects until we reach our capacity and discover our limitations. Our arms deftly spin for years and years juggling everything until we grow weary and can no longer embrace any more items. In fact, we start to slow down, prioritize what we are doing, and drop those tasks we no longer consider important thereby simplifying our lives. In the Jay Leno example, the father had grown to accept changing the television channel manually and felt the remote control was simply one more thing to complicate his life. Consequently, he avoided using it, even going to the extent of fabricating an excuse.
In youth we are eager to accept new challenges as we want to prove ourselves ready to assume our place in society. As we master the subjects that interest us, we begin to exercise our skills and express ourselves creatively. Typically, our window of peak creativity is no more than ten years. To illustrate, both the Beatles and the Beach Boys, two of the most successful Rock and Roll bands of all time, were at their zenith of their careers for no more than ten years, as is true for most bands. The members of the bands ranged in age from their late teens to late twenties. In their thirties, they slowed down and were never able to duplicate the creative output of their earlier years. This phenomenon is not only true in the arts, but in the sciences as well. Our tempo slows, we prioritize our efforts, and we begin to focus on fewer things. Whereas we were eager beavers in our youth, we become more cognizant of our limitations and more selective in our challenges.
One reason young people are gravitating towards the Information Technology field is because of their ability to embrace complexity. For example, the average computer program consists of approximately 100 components (such as data elements, records, files, modules, etc.), each requires a series of design decisions based on type (e.g., a data element's length, precision, scale, label, validation rules, etc.). In total, there are approximately 2,000 such decisions to be made and controlled, which is quite a challenge for anyone to track. Whereas younger programmers are more inclined to simply write and compile the software iteratively until it is clean, their older counterparts are more likely to carefully plan and document the software to avoid forgetting or overlooking the components used and the design decisions associated with them.
Whereas youth is quick to tackle complex issues, often to the point of recklessness, this inevitably leads to mistakes and causes us to slow down and become more cautious. As we grow older, we don't mind tackling complex issues, but we are leery of making mistakes and, consequently, become wiser in how we tackle such undertakings. As we approach retirement and beyond, we are less likely to tackle bold new ventures and, instead, are more inclined to "simplify, simplify, simplify."
Actually, if programmers weren't so bad at designing devices to be easy-to-use, we wouldn't be so dependent on our youth to operate them for us, but that is another subject. As a teenager, there were only two buttons on my family's television set, one for on/off and volume, and a tuning dial. Today, God only knows how many buttons I have on my High Def TV; I know there is one for power, three for color, two to adjust screen positioning, and one to automatically call 911 when I've finally lost my mind.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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