In the early 1990s, I came into contact with quite a few people who had spent a good portion of the 1980s as guests of the Canadian Government. (They were convicts.) All of them faced the same problems involved with making the transition back into life on the "outside" that I'm sure former inmates have faced for decades. But the ones I knew were faced with the additional obstacle of the massive technological leaps that had occurred in that decade.
Things that I took for granted, like bar-coded information on a library card, stunned them. For some of them, CD players hadn't been invented when they had gone inside; digital technology was a complete mystery. They eventually adjusted, but for the first few months they were like tourists on their first visit to Manhattan gawking at all the big buildings.
Ten-plus years is a long time to be cut off from the rest of the world, and the eighties was a period when technology advanced at a rate faster than any decade previous in the 20th century. It made sense that they felt like the proverbial strangers in a strange land until they acclimatized.
I've lived and worked out in this society as an adult now for 25-plus years. Even before I left university in 1981, I had plenty of life experience through part-time jobs and the like. But the fact remains, for most of my adult life, I've felt just like those men and women did during their first few months out of jail.
It's not the same thing of course. I haven't had to make any adjustments to major changes in technology except in the manner that all of us have, as it's impacted more and more on our lives. I haven't been cut off from what we consider normal interactions with other members of society. Yet, in spite of all what they’ve done to figure out some way of fitting in, I'm still feeling alienated.
I walk downtown and I look at people glued to their cell phones. I wonder what's so important that they can't wait to talk about it. Sometimes it's like being in the middle of countless one-sided telephone conversations. It truly amazes me what I hear people say. Maybe it's because they are talking on a phone, but they obviously think no one near them can hear what they are saying or they wouldn't be talking about the things they talk about as they walk down the street.