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Saturday, Dec 07 2013 11:00 PM

ROBERT PRICE: Of an age that lives in two worlds

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    Robert Price is The Californian's editorial page editor. Email him at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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By ROBERT PRICE, Californian editorial page editor

My generation of latter-day Baby Boomers takes up a lot of space in this country, substantially more than the generation that followed. Statistically speaking, that means outnumbered younger generations will either be supporting most of us or we'll be living out our final years in cardboard boxes down by the river. Sure, our retirement incomes are still steadily accruing -- ideally, from multiple sources -- but our generation, in addition to being huge, is also the heartiest on record. That means we will be living a long, long time -- long enough, I'm afraid, to outlive most of our inflation-depleted retirement eggs.

Sorry about that, kids.

By the time we're done, we tail-end Baby Boomers will have had front-row seats for the most rapid-fire sequence of technological advances in human history. Our parents were front and center for color television, push-button telephones and two moon landings, but over the course of our half-century of life thus far, science-driven innovation has come much more quickly. Nanotechnology. Nuclear chemistry. Imaging techniques that have scientists evaluating far-distant planets for human survivability.

I remember the day email was introduced at my office. It was heady stuff. Now I can communicate with almost anyone in North America in any of a half-dozen ways. (Not that they'll all reply).

My kids' generation will experience everyday technology unlike anything I can imagine now, and the iterations will come more rapidly, but their lives won't see the leap my generation has encountered in terms of distance covered -- analog to digital, microscopic to subatomic, Ford Mustang to Elon Musk's hyperloop.

What this means, at least for me, is that I've got one foot in two worlds. I read the newspaper every morning and then I pick up my smartphone and thumb-scroll through my Twitter feed. I don't remember phone numbers anymore because they're all stored in the phone, but I can't quite bring myself to log appointments on anything but paper. I know: How quaintly "Mad Men"-ish of me.

I have no problem when, whether by law or common courtesy, I have to put away my phone. I can sit through an entire movie without checking for messages and I can obey the flight attendant's instructions to put away all electronic devices without dreading withdrawal symptoms.

Those rare moments of peace are dwindling, though. Most recently, it's the sanctity of the commercial jet. The Federal Communications Commission says it will consider allowing passengers to use their digital gizmos in the air, and many people think that's a good thing. But that means the guy carrying on the loud conversation behind me in the bank line (yes, I sometimes still stand in bank lines) is now sitting right next to me in seat 22B, carrying on like Muammar Qaddafi at the U.N. It means that cat nap I hoped to be taking between the Grand Canyon and the plains of Nebraska is not going to happen.

Maybe airborne phone users will tire of the novelty and we'll achieve a stability of civility. Or perhaps the airline industry, which charges for every other midair service except the lavatory, will figure out a way to collect for phone time, too. Sort of a corkage fee.

Ah, but I dream. If we have access to information technology, most of us will use it -- all of it, and simultaneously if possible. My kids can Facebook, text, watch TV, play a video game, listen to Spotify and claim to be reading a book all at the same time. The inevitable reckoning, wherein they realize how their behavior has diminished their ability to function, has not yet happened.

It happened for me long ago. Twitter and iTunes -- those I can handle at once. But then, I'm a Baby Boomer, with one foot in analog and the other in digital.

Contact Robert Price: @stubblebuzz or rprice@bakersfield.com.

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