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The Mortality Club

THE WAR OF THE AGES: Technophobes vs. Digital Dudes

Technology intensifies the great divide between the young and old. Sometimes it even exacerbates the war of the ages. Many older people just don’t think the new technology is relevant to their lives. Many are afraid of it. They feel threatened by the proliferation of new gadgets like smart phones and tablets that make it possible to get connected and stay connected with anyone, anywhere, anytime, and all the time. The longer they resist the new technology, the more foreign and frightening it becomes.

Young people today are all Digital Dudes. They are on the move. With their smart phones, they can keep track of friends’ locations. If someone gets an idea and wants to stage a big event with little planning, all they have to do is send out text messages to everyone on their contact list and urge all within striking distance to come.

They skim text instead of reading it deeply. While there’s nothing wrong with being able to access pertinent information quickly, the potential loss of the ability to contemplative or concentrate is serious. I fear that soon young people will have neither the patience nor the ability to wade through the lengthy epistles written by their elders. Even being invited to wade through the old family albums may begin to be viewed by the young as more of a burden than through old family photo albums may begin to be viewed as more of a burden than an opportunity.

Old people are concerned about being remembered. Young people are concerned about getting noticed. Their overwhelming passion is to differentiate themselves, and to create a distinct identity. This often translates to ignoring a culture which would dictate behavior and long standing family rituals and traditions which seem to confine and restrict.
Getting noticed means posting a hundred photos online rather than pasting ten photos in an album. It means sending five word texts fifty times a day to twenty people rather than spending an hour writing a long letter to someone special. Even more intimate communications are often intended to be temporary and easily deleted as sexting (sending text messages with sexually explicit content) replaces other, more permanent ways to express affection. Emailing is regarded as a relic, a remant of an inefficient past.

None of this is going to improve communications between the young and old. We older folks have a choice. We can harangue and harass younger people, demanding that they communicate our way. I don’t think that’s going to work. Their brains have already been rewired. We can step aside, and become silent observers who are out of flow. That would be a lonely way to go. Or, we can sign up and sign on. That means more than signing onto Facebook. It means learning to text instead of relying on email. It means learning to post photos on Instagram. It means buying a smart phone and maybe even getting rid of our land line. It means getting used to buying ebooks, and learning to stream movies onto our televisions.

Believe me, it gets less scary with time. And it definitely pays off. It helps you stay connected to the young people in your life, and it helps you fight the disease of the hardening of the categories as you keep yourself open to new input and new ideas. And, it helps you to express your opinions and share your hardwon expertise in ways which hold the interest of the young.
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