At Witz End, We All Shuffle Forward Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Technology
By Eugenia Moskowitz
Everyone’s worried about technology. Screens are taking over and kids are living through their smart phones. It frightens parents of a certain age who see dangers lurking everywhere.
I get it. It’s definitely unsettling. Kids spend too much time with their noses in their devices. But here’s the thing: nothing has really changed with human beings, or with parent/kid relations.
Audacious, I know. How can I say that? Of course things have changed! Kids today are glued to their cell phones and virtual reality! They’re not present anymore! They’re distracted! They even talk to their phones!
Well I for one used to talk to my toaster.
Let’s go back to the 1970s, to transistor radios, Amana Radar-ranges, and color TVs. There’s my parents’ shiny toaster on the Formica counter top. If it didn’t toast the bread, I’d whisper to it, “Please glow and toast. Glow and toast.” And if that didn’t work, I’d smack it on the side. My dad hit the TV to make it get better reception. “Come on, you idiot!” he’d shout, and bop it with his fist near the antenna. In college, when I worked part time in the copy center, I’d plead with the xerox machine: “Don’t jam. Just don’t jam.”Men talk to their cars all the time. They even name them. (All you classic car club guys know this.)
So yeah, now we talk to our computers and our smart phones. I opened my laptop (is it still called a laptop?) to write this essay and Google Chrome (or whatever it’s called) said it could not connect. “Yeah right,” I told it. “You so can. Hurry up.” And it did. It just needed a little encouragement.
I get it. Computers are infuriating for people over 45. We weren’t raised with them so we see them as interlopers: useful sometimes (when we need them), but they don’t always do what we want, and they’re soul-snatching when overused. We fear kids getting addicted to virtual reality, video games, and social media. Some children do get hooked, just like some children and teens get hooked on vaping nicotine and other drugs. While some of us more tech-savvy parents (like my husband) do feel comfortable with technology, many more see it as something so new, so different from the way we grew up and communicated, that the jury is still out on whether it’s good or bad for our offspring. Just like the jury was out with the printing press and the horseless carriage. (A critic at the time said of Ford’s automobile, “Who will ever want to sit on top of an explosion? No one!”)
How bad is the no-filter world of today’s music, movies, and Netflix shows? Personally, I cringe. But parents also cringed when the youth of the 40s listened to jazz, and teens of the 60s listened to acid rock. It’s normal for parents to cringe.
Again, I get it. I’m over 45. I mistrust the bad aspects of technology as much as anyone. I’m a believer in the standards of prime-time TV where curse-words were dutifully bleeped out to preserve standards of decorum. How fuddy-dud that seems now.
But here’s the thing. The kids seem fine. Most kids have no issues navigating the digital world. Some do. But when I warned my eldest about cyber-dangers, he just yawned and said, “I know, mom.”
“But everything stays online forever!” I shouted.
“I know, mom.”
“There are bad people!”
“I know, mom.” Looking in the refrigerator. “Do we have any grapes?”
Yes kids get in trouble online. And kids got in trouble hanging out on the street corner in the 70s. We used to walk out the door with no communication besides some dimes for the pay phone and fifty cents for a pack of cigarettes. Some boys I knew in high school got into big trouble, real trouble, with stints on Rikers Island. I wonder where some of those boys are now. I would look them up on Facebook, if I could only remember their last names. But I can’t. Because I’m getting forgetful. Because I’m over 45.
Here’s the thing: I think most of us don’t truly remember all the dangers of our own teenage years. Those years were (gasp) a long time ago. We’re past our prime, we’re past the quick absorption and total understanding a person gets when he’s still growing and moving forward. We are, to use a colloquialism, “over the hill.” If we’re over 50, chances are our youngest kids are either in, or probably almost out of middle school. They’re in high school or college or starting their careers. We’re thinking about where they’ll settle, and where we’ll end up moving to be closer to them. We’re thinking about when we’ll see grandkids. We’re thinking about our health. We’re slowing down, physically and mentally. In short, we’re facing the grave. And it scares us. So we lash out against young people and technology. We lash out against newfangled tools. We lash out at whatever’s unfamiliar to us. And it’s stupid.
My eighth grader has an amazing English teacher. She’s about 26, a wisp of a gal maybe 98 pounds soaking wet, with blonde hair in a simple twist, and a teeny rhinestone stud in her nose. (Yes, I know.) But she’s also married, wears a traditional diamond ring, just bought a house, and has two children under age three. She has a great gig in a great school district. And she’s an amazing teacher: her standards of concepts in literature and writing borders advanced high school English classes. And there she was at our parent/teacher conference, saying, “Now if it’s ok, I’d like to use Remind to communicate, it’s a push-app that’s more direct than e-mail and you get the message right on your phone.”
I was baffled. “A ‘push-app’?”
She continued, “It’s so easy, you can download it quick” — she made a little finger motion — “boop-boop-boop-boop-boop.”
I panicked. “That’s five boops. Wait, what?”
My eyes glazed over as she started speaking in Technology to me, and she stopped. “Sorry. I’m a millenial.”
I brushed it aside. “It’s ok. I’ll just ask my eighth grader.” And I think she felt just a tad bit sad for my obviously geriatric condition.
Which is all to say, when technology is in our lives when we’re young, it’s normal because our brains are open to it. When it comes to us later in life, it’s alien, a foreign language our kids speak but we don’t. We’ve immigrated into the future, and we feel disconnected from the world our children inhabit. And it makes us sad, and angry.
So were parents in the 60s. So was Aristotle, when he railed against the youth of the day. “Young people…” he wrote. They were inconsiderate, they were rude, they were just horrible. That was over 2,000 years ago. It happens with every generation. Our problem is: we’re old. And we’re getting older. We’re holding a one-way ticket with a destination none of us wants to get to. We’re all on line, shuffling forward. The start of the ride is very far away now and the end is a lot closer than we’re comfortable with.
At least we can say we have a nice view. We can look around and see what the kids of today are doing, accomplishing, creating. They’ll go to college/trade school/get a job/join the military/get married/have babies, and I’ll move wherever they do. I’ll go anywhere, I tell them. I’ll raise your kids, cook your dinner, clean your house — I’m there. Just say the word, kiddos.
Even if I don’t understand a word. It’s okay. I can look it up on my smart phone.