Trouble Thinking

September 4, 2010

Old vs. New

Filed under: Troubled Thinking — Tags: , , — Katherine Barclay @ 12:25 am

Anyone who was paying attention last week knows that I promised I’d post the rest of my thoughts (of which I assure you all I have many) about Bioshock by week’s end — and since I fully intended to do so, I promise they will come, eventually.

Unfortunately, I’ve spent the last two days in the car with my Dad, undertaking an epic, international, transcontinental voyage from my hometown of Toronto, Canada to the not-so-little cityplace I am moving to in Texas. Aside from a lot of fast food and stiff muscles, this meant some decent Quality Time with the above mentioned semi-estranged father, a chance to sample the fine mid-western radio choices, and almost no internet access.

The iType?

It also meant another chance to observe a phenomenon that I’ve been eying for the past several years as various adults, most easily exemplified by my father, try and fail to survive in an increasingly technological world.

It’s like he’s given up!

It’s like once upon a time, years ago, the forces of People who are Getting On in Years fought a pitched battle against the forces of Innovative Technological Advances, and suffered a crushing defeat, and since then have been paying their tithes to the glorious victors by taking more time and doing everything the hard way, because they’re not allowed to change with the times.

In my father’s case, this manifests as a simple inability to retain any information, if it has to do with blinking lights and pushing buttons. I’ve explained how to Google something several dozen times, at least, have shown him how to restart without shutting down, how to play a video file from a DVD. I’ve shown him how to turn his camera on (poke the button) and take a picture (poke a different button) and turn it off again (poke that first one again), and how to change the time on the clock in every single car he’s ever owned, and don’t get me started on DVD players.

And yet, every time, no matter what the piece of technology is, how long he’s owned it before crossing paths with me, or how many times I’ve gone over with him how to use it, as soon as I appear on the scene he hands the latest gadget over to me with a sigh of relief, and says ‘here, make this work’.

I tried, once, asking him if he could read the manual for it. Apparently, the instructions there were too complicated for him (‘push button, push other button, click ‘okay’.’). I tried reading them to him, to see if hearing it from a human who clearly understood the words would make a difference — but no, he simply gave me a forlorn look, like a well-trained dog who suddenly finds himself hearing commands given in a foreign language and isn’t sure how he’s supposed to function anymore.

Beating the offending piece of technology into submission for him doesn’t help matters any. No sooner do I convince the thing to do what he wanted it to do than he turns to me and asks, in an incredibly endearing, hopeful tone of voice, “so, what did you just do?” Unfortunately, the only thing I can do is give him an honest answer: “I poked some buttons until I got the option I wanted.”

That, I think, is what’s really missing from my father, and by proxy his entire generation: a spirit of adventure. To him, technology is something frightening, something which is just as likely to blow up and somehow destroy the world as it is to be useful to him. No matter how many times I tell him, or my mother, or my grandfather, to just poke around and see what happens, they all seem to think that clicking the wrong line in the ‘File’ menu will wipe their hard drives forever.

This, from a man who once threw a loonie into an active woodchipper while his girlfriend was peering over it, just to see what would happen.

With this fear comes a certain disdain: technology is new, untried and untrustworthy. There was a minor argument on the drive today, about where we were supposed to go, and what the best way would be to get there. My father was driving, and was therefore unable to pull out the four full-sized maps he had brought for the journey. Rather than fight with them, I pulled out my new iPhone, which has google maps and GPS and I am a dork for finding that as cool as I do, to see where everything was. My father thought the city we were driving to was north, I thought it was west: as always, Google had the answer.

Except that he refused to believe it, or my phone, or me. Paused at a stop sign, he looked over at the map on my screen, where the two dots were sitting neatly at opposite ends of a horizontal line, and sniffed disdainfully. “I know you like your phone thing,” he said, “but if you just look at the map …” And so I did; I found the right map, and found the right area of it, where of course the landscape of the southern United States was exactly the same as Google had said it was …

And he looked shocked, and almost a little betrayed, like one of the last bastions of the Old School had gone behind his back and whispered its secrets to the invading troops. For the rest of the drive, he kept making snide little digs at my phone, as though holding it personally responsible for his map’s failing, and still refuses to listen when it tells him that his GPS (the only piece of technology he seems to have even begun to master) isn’t taking him the way he wants to go.

I guess there’s not much I can do except cross my fingers and pray that that’s not me, fifty years from now.

1 Comment »

  1. My god, there is so much truth to this article it’s frustrating. I have so many family members who fall into this category and now a teacher as well…

    Also, I worked at a store that had those photo kiosks where you order what you want pictures of. It had instructions both on screen and a voice that gave prompts on what to do and older people would just stare at it like a deer in headlights.

    They’re so afraid of it that they don’t want to accept the fact that it’s easy to learn once you open yourself up to learning. Gah!

    Comment by taekwondogirl — September 7, 2010 @ 3:37 pm

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