A friend aspires to be as adept at using consumer technology in 30 years – when he’ll be in his late 70s – as he is today.
He believes many older people have been lazy about keeping up with the underlying advances of the past 50 years.
And he argues that because he works in software engineering and makes an effort to understand the principles behind new technology, he will be in a good position to achieve his goal of being able to program his semi-bio-engineered cyborg gardener using mind control as easily as his grandchildren in the year 2054.
I believe he’s missing the point, and we’ve had many debates.
Silver surfer wipeout
We first got onto this topic after my friend expressed frustration with his septuagenarian mother, who was struggling to read her online banking webpage.
She’d had the Internet for years! Why couldn’t she just fill in the boxes and click the right buttons?
Because, I argued, she didn’t grow up with it. It’s not in her bones, or her muscle memory, or the appropriate synaptic connections.
While most older people I know have basically got the hang of parsing webpages by now, it was fascinating watching them try in their early encounters with the Internet.
Very often they’d start reading from the top left. They’d scan right, then return to the left hand side, drop their eyes down a bit, and continue the process.
They were reading the webpage like a book!
Ever wondered why anyone clicked on banner adverts or got confused about content versus text ads in the sidebar?
Now you know.
Reading a webpage like a book is bonkers to my generation.
Most of us grew up with – or at least encountered – video games.
We were taught very young to treat the screen like a plate of tapas to pick and choose from, rather than as a sacred text.
Perhaps even those who missed games (many young girls, in the early days, for instance) were still trained to have a roving eye by the frenetic activity of Saturday morning cartoons, or by the visually didactic offerings of Play School and Sesame Street.
Older people grew up on books, and watched movies at the cinema that were first staged like theatre productions. Their hands were held by the film’s creators through the viewing. Though they couldn’t articulate it, they mostly knew what to expect next (what shot, what reaction shot, what panning shot, and so on).
Whereas we were taught to take what we needed from a screen. Webpages, when they came, were no big leap.
Of course we were also young, inquisitive, and took pleasure in being adaptable – qualities that do seem to wane.
In any event, reading webpages has diddly-squat to do with understanding hypertext or TCP/IP.
Similarly, many of our parents well understood what a video tape was capable of doing.
The reason they struggled to program their VCRs was because they grew up in a world of wooden horses and plastic cars and just one fancy piece of electronics in the corner of the living room that at first they weren’t allowed to touch.
Are you already a luddite?
If you’re in your mid-to-late 40s and you believe your grandkids won’t be helping you with your household appliances in 30 years, ponder the following:
Do you spend fewer than 10 hours a day consuming content via a handheld digital device?
Do you still own a CD or DVD collection, or even an iTunes library?
Do you take a photo of every meal you have in a restaurant and then distribute it on social media?
Do you ever answer your front doorbell?
Do you take 546 portraits of yourself in front of every cultural landmark you pass, and know which is your good side, the right angle for your chin, and what’s your best filter?