Interview with Dr. Rick Chromey, author of GenTech: An American Story of Technology, Change and Who We Really Are
My journey in writing began at a very young age. I wrote my first book (about a bunny) when I was six. By age ten I was creating a monthly wildlife newsletter (featuring special stamps of animals and birds) that I sold to neighbors for a dime. It was my first revelation that the writing life was one of persistence, hard work and creativity. In my teens I wrote for my school newspaper and church newsletter. Eventually I landed a job as a beat reporter for my hometown paper. I wasn’t even 18 years old yet and was covering hard news like what the mayor cooked for supper, fair and rodeo results and the police blotter. It proved only a summer gig but in the process I learned the fine art of tight writing, investigative journalism and photography. I also learned that I was a good author. People read what I wrote.
In college I wrote my first self-published books, then went on the road hawking them to pay my apartment, school and food bills. That’s when I learned that books created speaking engagements and if you were a great speaker that you could earn a decent living in the writing life. As a youth pastor I also did a lot of writing. In fact, my first paid publishing by-line was for a major magazine. I was soon writing columns, reviews, curriculum and feature articles. At 25, I wrote my first published book (which turned out to be a best-selling book in the field for 17 years!). I wrote my second major book at 30 and also began to write self-published titles. With my new release I’ve now penned six nationally published books and nearly a dozen self-published works, plus hundreds of articles, columns, reviews and lessons. I guess you could say I was born to write!
Gen Tech seems to offer a fairly different topic from your other titles. How did the idea to write this book arise?
As a professor in Christian education and youth ministry, my field focused on cultural and generational change in relation to the church world. Part of my teaching work was cultural analysis. Consequently, I have been researching, writing, teaching and training (via workshops at conferences and conventions) on the topic of generations since the late 1980s. I also grew fascinated with generational studies after Neil Howe and Williams Strauss published their epic masterpiece on “Generations” in 1991. I not only read every book they wrote but also began to write and speak on the topic myself.
The genesis of GenTech started in the mid-1990s when I first noted how the emerging digital and web culture was changing how we shopped, worked, learned and entertained ourselves. In my doctoral work I intentionally focused on technological change and how it influenced electronic learning. It was in the mid-2000s that I labeled those born after 2000 as the “iTech Generation” (which resonated with my audiences). I perceived technology was framing this new generation (and I think I’m right!). I also noted how labels like Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z were getting traction but provided no substantive insight. Why “Gen Z”...except that it follows X and Y?
About three years ago, I was in a creative, insightful mood and laid out a “GenTech” frame for generations that went back to 1900. When I posted it on Facebook, my friends were captivated by the idea and that’s when “GenTech” was conceived. The name bubbled in 2018 when I shortened and combined “generations” with “technology.” And GenTech was born.
I write something every single day. I have a daily (M-F) morning e-newsletter that forces a regular commitment to writing. My best writing time is in the mornings. For me, coming off a good night’s sleep goes a long way. I spend about an hour after waking up in spiritual and mental preparation. For me that’s reading from the Bible, and inspirational literature. I also read a few selective blogs (Seth Godin!) plus the NY Times and Fox News morning briefings. I then head to Facebook and try to write something pithy, inspirational or helpful for my followers and friends.
If I’m writing a major work—like GenTech—I do most of my work in the morning (with a goal to knock off by noon). I use the afternoon for meetings, chores, reading/research and even to relax. My evenings are reserved for family and friends. My wife likes to head to bed early and that’s when I retreat to my “man cave” (office living room) to watch history, science, psychology, sociology and biography shows that I’ve got saved on my television. I have several reality shows I follow. I also watch some news commentary on the day. This past year I’ve been writing poetry too. Writing is my release.
Frankly, I don’t really have any breaks between books because I have six or more books all cooking at the same time. I’m currently chipping away on a book about how we socialize, gather and find community. I’m writing another book on parenting. I’ve also been slowly writing my autobiography. So there’s no rest for me, and I’ve got probably two dozen books now in various states of completion. It’s only when I contract a book title that I go to work and get it done.
This book is full of dates, historic events, births, and more, which must have taken a lot of time to accumulate? What kind of research did you need to do to amass all the information needed for this book? Did you have help? How long did it take?
I’ve been writing this book for 20 years and training on its concepts for nearly as long. Consequently, parts of this book (particularly the early chapters on cultural and generational change) were easy chapters to write. When it came to write about each technology generation, that was a different story! I write best by inspiration. Consequently, I set apart two to three days just to research the technology. I watched YouTube videos. I rented DVD history videos. I immersed myself in the story of the tech and the time period. For me, I wanted to write a great story that landed a solid point. So I looked for hooks, angles and sticky “stories” that interested me...and then wrote what I was feeling.
I did notice the chapters before my time (1900 to 1960) were much harder to write, because I had no memory of the technology’s emergence. However, when I reached my tech generations (Space, Gamer), everything started to click. In fact, I pretty much cruised through the post-1960 generations—easily inspired—until I reached the Robo Generation (born since 2010). The funny thing is I really had no name for this newest generation. Even as I was writing the chapter, I was working an idea more than a moniker. Eventually, in my research, I came across a 2019 Super Bowl commercial introducing “Robo Child” and the light bulb started flashing: “That’s it! It’s the Robo Generation.”
As for process, I do all the research myself (which I love). Writing a book is no different than researching and writing my doctoral dissertation or master’s thesis. It’s all about propositions, theories, principles and supporting facts (that can be confirmed by the reader). One of my favorite parts of GenTech are all the notes at the end of the book. Many of these notes were originally in the chapter but we had a page count situation and so I shoved a lot of these “extra” research nuggets to the endnotes. I also live-linked many of the notes so if you’re reading the digital version you can go directly to the web page I used. Many of these notes connect to YouTube videos that make GenTech come alive. It’s a fun book!
As an author - what do you enjoy most about writing process? What feels like a chore?
What I love most about writing is the response and reactions. I have friends who tell me all the time that they read everything I write on Facebook. That’s always amazing to me because they don’t usually “like” or “share” or comment. I would never know if they hadn’t told me. In fact, I suspect for every “like” there are 10 others who read and “like” (but don’t say so). I particularly love to pen something that creates conversation. I love to learn and I enjoy hearing peoples’ perspectives. I don’t always agree with their view, but I learn from it and that’s what matters.
The only time writing is a chore for me is when I’m under a deadline and writing without inspiration. If I have a “spark” and an angle, then I can write for hours in what only seems like minutes. But if I’m not inspired, if I’m tired or if I’m not feeling an angle, every word becomes like pulling teeth. Every. Single. Word. It’s why I love to write early in the morning, when I’m refreshed and thinking clear. I’m typing this sentence at 1:15 a.m. (to meet a deadline) and while I’m enjoying this opportunity, I’m starting to wear down fast.
Oh, one more thing: writing really becomes a chore if you have to type letters and words over again because you have a key missing. That’s my problem right now. My “E” key is broke and so I have to really hit it hard to make it record an “e” and, in the process, I also double tap other letters and am constantly backspacing and fixing my errors. I need to get this key fixed!
You wear many hats - pastor, professor, speaker/trainer, consultant and author. What do you love to do to walk away from it all and relax? What do you like to read during your down time?
I love to play cards with my wife, ride my Harley, get away to my home state of Montana, travel someplace new (last year it was Sweden, Rome and Venice), and hit the thrifts, flea markets and pawns to find stuff for my collections. I collect Top 40 Hits between 1955 and 1990. I also collect St. Louis Cardinal baseball memorabilia, Charlie Russell (Montana artist) prints, antique technology and books...lots and lots of books on history, religion, psychology, sociology, leadership and culture.
My favorite reads? Biographies. I love a good story.
What's next for you? Do you have any new books in the planning or writing stage?
Right now we’re working this Covid moment and trying to get GenTech some traction. I do have a couple spin off books that I’d like to write to help business leaders, educators, pastors and parents to better understand and apply the insights from GenTech. I particularly want to write a specific book on the Robo Generation (b. 2010 – 2030).
I’d also am just starting to research a book that would chart technological generations back to 1760 and the founding of our nation. There’s a lot of technology in the 1800s—including the photograph, locomotive, revolver, telegraph—that make for an interesting prequel.
So, yes, several ideas bubbling, but we need to see where GenTech takes us. Ideally, I prefer to write a major book once every 3-5 years. It takes 2 years just to conceive a great idea and then pitch, write and bring it to a publishing date. And then another 1-2 years to enjoy the doors it opens. I know other writers who pump out books annually, even every six months, but that’s not me. I like to slow cook my ideas like U2 does their music. Once the band U2 reached international fame they released an album every 3-5 years. It’s what keeps their music fresh (because music is constantly changing), plus ride the power of their latest release. U2 does concerts. I do speaking and consulting.
Hopefully, I’ll write another dozen books before I die...I have a lot more to say.