Archive for Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Technology leaves us behind

May 7, 2003

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It used to be that geezers got to geeze -- which I assume is some combination of gaze and wheeze.

Upon reaching ripeness, they'd spend their time whistling, whittling or petting an animal with similar nap habits. They had earned the right to a slowed-down, simplified existence.

And now we expect them to hook up their high-speed cable modems.

If it's true that old age is no place for sissies, neither is it a place for anyone uncomfortable with on-screen programming. If Granny wants to see the grandchildren, she'd darn well better figure out how to open the attachment with the baby pics.

Which seems like a lot to ask.

Visiting my mom last week, I found myself explaining, once again, how to use her new answering machine.

"Mom, it is so simple! Just press Play, and if you don't want to keep the message, press Erase while it's playing, or if you want to keep it and skip ahead, just press Forward, or if you want to delete them all. ..."

My mom stared at the device as if it was the tracking system for a smart bomb. And I would have grown impatient -- OK, I did grow impatient -- had it not occurred to me: Someday my kids are going to be going just as crazy with me.

As far as morals and mores go, the generation gap isn't much of an issue anymore. Granny, mom and the kids basically agree that tolerance is good and tattoos aren't so bad. But the technology gap -- that's another story.

While many seniors have figured out how to download info and upload snapshots, plenty are nowhere near that.

I feel bad that my mom can't figure out her car's knob-free radio. I feel bad that my friend Janice's mother hasn't heard her favorite songs since she got a high-tech entertainment center. Says Janice, "She can't listen to music unless someone comes over to put it on for her."

At my friend Warren's house, his 70-something parents watch TV with the words "VIDEO 2" always visible in the corner because they can't figure out how to get them off. I'm mad that everyday appliances have become too complicated for many of the elderly.

At the same time, I wish they'd all get online already, so we could e-mail back and forth.

Of course, I'm also keenly aware that by the time my kids are grown, they will wonder why mom can't program her avatar or why I always take six rings to answer the laserphone or why I'm so reluctant to drive the heli-mobile. And hey, if I really want to see the grandkids, why won't I just teleport my DNA, for gosh sakes?

What I will gently tell them is the same thing my mom has gently told me: "You know, I haven't gotten any mail from you in a while."

As large as the gap may loom between among three generations' technological know-how, the mailbox is still pretty simple to operate.

It works best, however, when a loved one has taken a low-tech moment to make sure there's something inside.

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