Expat– ‘a person who lives outside their native country’
Exile – ‘the state of being barred from one’s native country’
– Roughly what most dictionaries would say
Like many good stories (and quite a few bad ones), this thought process all began in an Irish Pub. As many of you know, Irish pubs are the perfect place to turn the drunk rambling of a man into a complex idea that eventually ends up in an article. While living as an expat in Austria, I was once confronted with the German expression “von gestern sein” – to be from yesterday. This is used to describe someone really old-fashioned or someone who doesn’t react well to change.
In this particular usage (“sind Sie von gestern?” – “Are they from yesterday?”) the speaker was referring to people who have partied so hard that they have made it through to the next day, but are in fact still living in the day before. Sometimes German does it better. Back in the Irish pub, a retiree was making a convincing argument that he was a ‘tech-xpat’
Turning this into an article obviously took some more time in a bar.
The Irish man argued that his generation were introduced to computers so late that they would quickly be made obsolete – if they did not learn. But learning is tough, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. These days, there will soon be someone who can do it better and faster.
Back at school, I remember learning how to Google, basic Excel and an introduction to Word. My brother learnt to make websites – he is only five years younger, but my father goes to him for Excel advice. In a recent school newsletter, I saw a sixteen-year-old had won a national prize for ‘Best Young App’.
Combining this with the thought of ‘yesterday people’, will there soon be a whole section of humanity who will become ‘from yesterday’? Huxley wrote in A Brave New World about a part of society who lived on ‘reserves’. While this may be dramatic, with the speed of technological development, is it a possibility?
Enter the Futurists
Moore’s Law refers to an observation made in 1965 by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore. It predicts that the number of transistors per square inch of circuit board would double every year. This has proven to be the case. While limitations may soon apply, this does not necessarily mean that technology is slowing down. Just ask Ray Kurzweil.
In his book The Singularity is Near, futurist and inventor Kurzweil talks (among many things), about the similarities between evolution and technology. He argues that technology ‘stands on the shoulders of its predecessors’, just as evolution does. If this is the case: Will there be people who have not mastered the original, and would not be able to relate to the “shoulders” part?
With that lack of understanding and technological developments accelerating, will more and more people be left behind, simply because they cannot learn fast enough as new things hit the streets? And does that make them a ‘phobe’ or something else?
Phobe, Exile, Expat or something completely different?
Techno-phobes would be those who fear it (see Luddites). I do not think my parents fear it. They embraced it slowly, and were desperate for tips from us and now use it in a limited fashion. All that they require from it has opened up a world to them. But they will not be making websites anytime soon.
Tech-xiles would be those sent away from technology, either voluntarily by lack of understanding or forced, through lack of learning. My Excel knowledge is probably the same as it was in 2004 – luckily, as a writer, I do not require it. (Although I predict that as soon as I earn enough to consider tax returns that may well change…)
Tech-xpats would be ones who chose to avoid it. ‘Dumb phones’ saw sales rise 5% last year (compared to 2% on smartphones), and has popular support. Eddie Redmayne said he ditched his smartphone to stop constantly checking emails and ‘live in the moment’. A common trend. My first experience of someone abandoning their smartphone was in 2011, when a friend brought a Nokia 3310 to a festival. Genius, he always had battery. Shame it was redundant once all our phones had died.
While I am loath to ‘label’, I only recently found out I am a ‘flexitarian’ (I thought I was just being sensible/pragmatic/conscious/frugal). But is there an over-arching term we can use to define this potential portion of the population? Is it ‘Yesterday’s People’ or can we go more dystopian and go with a Huxley-esque ‘Reservationists’ (with the above sub–tribes)?
In the end, no, it is not important to label. It is not a thing, yet. We should probably use the time to focus on what the actual point of all the above waffle is. Learning. As computers evolve at a staggering speed we must also evolve to learn faster. We need to abandon old adages like ‘you can’t teach an old dog’ and invest in education that moves as fast as the world around it. We need to better accept that learning does not end with higher education and create the tools to make this more accessible for all age brackets, genders and social backgrounds.
Probably what the most important of all this is, that as people quit technology to ‘slow down’, maybe we should try and slow technology down. With a wealth of influencers abandoning technologies due to anxieties and depression, maybe we should look into decreasing the speed of technological progress. This might afford time to plan better where it goes and how to put it to better use. While maybe, hopefully, slowing us all down enough to enjoy it.