As for us baby boomers, our comfort zone with technology and social media is broad and varied. Most middle aged adults, who have been in the work force since college, have gradually made the transition from typewriters to computers, fax to pdf and onto laptops, cell phones and ipads. It’s not even possible to be a responsible parent if you don’t stay on top of technology. How else can you protect your child from cyberbullying, sexting, and on-line pedophiles? There are probably countless other worries, but fortunately my kids are 23, so I don’t have to pay attention to the latest and (not necessarily) greatest advances in technology. What is Snapchat, anyway?
On the other hand, I’m extremely grateful that my son, Max, forced me to become semi-computer literate. Starting in 6th grade, Max attended a school that required him to do practically EVERYTHING on a laptop. The good news was that most homework assignments were posted on-line. No more forgetting or losing those pesky papers with teacher’s instructions—a huge benefit to students like Max with ADHD. The bad news was I had to monitor how much time Max spent IMing and going on Facebook instead of actually doing the homework. That meant I had to join Facebook, get his password and invade his messy minefield of a room to check his laptop screen. In some ways, I felt like an ungainly or oversized ship, being tugged out of my safe harbor of ignorance.
Along with other parents, I had to learn enough about my son’s social world and its intersections with technology to help him navigate safely and politely. We had to invent new rules of etiquette. Is it okay to email a thank you note instead of writing one? Share your password with close friends? What about IMing while talking to a parent? Texting while out to dinner? Or posting questionable photos on Facebook? These were the common issues of the day.Less common but equally important, was educating my daughter, Sarah, on the autistic spectrum, to use a computer and understand the basics of social media. Her special schools were so busy trying to help her overcome behavioral and social challenges and teach her basic academic skills (like reading and math) that there was no time or energy left to focus on technology. It was hard enough for Sarah to make one or two real friends in her class, let alone learn how to email or understand the ins and outs of Facebook.
Persuading Sarah to use a computer was much more difficult than I would have imagined. With low muscle tone in her fingers, Sarah had struggled to hold a pen correctly before finally learning to write loopy script that teachers could barely decipher. The irony was that Sarah LOVED writing script, because it was the only thing she accomplished before her twin brother. Sarah was painfully aware that Max was more proficient in computers, social media and all other academics, so she didn’t want to try.
Toward the end of high school I had to ask teachers to insist that Sarah type her papers. There was no chance she could go to college without basic computer literacy. I had to help her, so I had to help myself first. Then I had to persuade her that to make and keep friends in the real world, she needed to go on Facebook. It was a long, slow process, but now she has more than 100 Facebook friends; a few of them are friends in the real world.
Speaking of the real world, I often feel that I’m on the verge of obsolescence. I became so comfortable with my Blackberry that I have owned an iphone for less than a year. Should I be embarrassed (or proud?) to admit that I have only recently learned to take and upload photos on my phone, along with using navigation and voice commands? This blog is less than a year old and I needed a LOT of help setting it up, learning where and how to post it. As for Twitter, I’m not a big fan, and usually tweet only once a week, (instead of every day like most people in the modern age). I’ve never included a hash tag. According to my frame of reference “hash” is either roast beef or something you smoke. Does that leave me at the shallow end of the social media pool?
Maybe the people in the shallow end are those young people on dates who don’t talk to each other. They don’t hold hands or even make eye contact because they are too busy texting other people on their respective phones. Even worse, is when one person talks on the phone or texts, and the other just sits there, virtually alone. What happened to romantic evenings when people talked and had eyes for only EACH OTHER? For that matter, what happened to friends having intimate conversations or laughing TOGETHER instead of on separate screens? Are we destined to communicate in emotional shorthand with abbreviations, initials and emoticons?
Technology has opened the world and connected many people in a variety of ways, not all of them good. Time, energy and paper have been saved and many tedious jobs eliminated (good for some people and ruinous for others). Robots and mini-drones are only a heartbeat (or key stroke) away. Depending on your age, viewpoint (and investment portfolio), these developments fall somewhere in the range of wonderful, innovative examples of human evolution and cyber disgrace.