We all know the “technologically inept” parent. Whether it’s your own parents or grandparents, or just an older person in your office, everyone in this generation has met and been frustrated by that one person who can’t seem to remember how to open the files you emailed to them.
In this day and age, most thirteen year olds, and even eight year olds, are technologically savvy enough to know how to work a computer, a cell phone and an array of gaming devices without ever needing to be told how. So why can’t a grown man or woman, running a successful business, reply to a text message without assistance?
We live in a world where technology is so engrained in our everyday lives, that not knowing how to operate these devices puts us at risk of being alienated from the world around us. We’re expected to know how because everyone else already does.
But the “inept parent” trope is overplayed and may in fact be a little unfair. As members of generation X, we have grown up with a reference point for technology, something our parents never had. We have all grown up with an awareness of technology and its function in the world. Because of this, it can be irritating when our parents just DON’T GET IT. To us, it’s the simplest thing in the world, opening a document, burning a CD, connecting to the Internet. But for the generations ahead of us, the fact that you can see and talk to someone in a different country in real time on Skype is still something to marvel at.
The situation is even more different when taken in a Trinbagonian context. It still takes us a few months to get the same technology that is available in the US upon release. Or colonial history makes for some very simplistic origins. I remember my grandmother’s stories about having to go to a neighbour’s house if she wanted to use the telephone, and the old black and white television with two dials that used to sit in her family room. Now, I’m impressed that she not only has a big screen TV and a cell phone, but can also use both without assistance. But my granny is just bad like dat…
Not to be disrespectful, but there’s truth to the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. We think that because the processes involved in operating our home computer are simple enough, our parents should be able to understand them, but since they’ve never been taught, how are they supposed to know how to access the browser when the icon has mysteriously disappeared from the desktop?
There’s also the added problem of the change in power dynamic. Our parents are supposed to know everything. They are the big people. We are supposed to ask them for help. Because of this, it can be annoying for us to feel like they’re always harassing us to do simple things like opening a document for them, when we think they should already know how. But think about how they must feel. Do you want to have to be schooled by your seven-year-old niece about how to use a Blackberry? And trust me, it’s happened to somebody somewhere. Even if we think they’re clueless about technology, we have to be more sensitive to the fact that they probably don’t want to be in that situation either.
To us, new technology is intuitive. We’re given a new device and we instinctively know how to operate it because of our experience with other devices. Our parents don’t have this option. They grew up with typewriters and records. We grew up with keyboards and iPods. Typewriters are not like keyboards and PCs. But iPods ARE like iPads. It’s much easier for our generation to move from one piece of technology to another because of the relative similarities between them. I’m not ashamed to say I have no idea how to use a fax machine. If I need to get something I’ll dropbox it. To my parents though, it’s an essential skill.
The point is, we should all be a little more patient with our parents when it comes to technology. Their reference point is entirely analogue. Instead of being impatient with them, take the time to explain how the digital world works so that they can figure it out themselves the next time they run into the problem. It’s “teach a man to fish” all over again. If you don’t have the time to work with them, enrol them in computer literacy classes or bookmark web pages they can go to if they run into trouble.
TeachParentsTech.org has a handy form you can use to email your parents/other inept older person video explanations of how to accomplish various computer tasks. It’s actually quite amusing. Take the time to teach instead of getting frustrated and just doing it for them. Otherwise, they’re just going to keep waking you up in the middle of the night to find that lost document.
Check out the rest of this week’s issue (7/11/11; Issue 80):
- Parents and Technology: The Bane of your Existence?
- Young People Eh: What it’s like Being the Baby at Work
- Friends with Benefits: It’s All About the Body Parts
- Small Island, Big Mentality: Why T&T is still a Speck
Look out for a new issue of Outlish.com every Monday!
Stalk us on Facebook @facebook.com/outlishmagazine