In a ‘Norman Rockwellesque’ vision of America; innocent and replete with small town intimacy and wholesome family values, you might imagine ‘Grandma’ or ‘Grandpa’ sitting in front of the fireplace on a quiet evening, reading a story to a hushed circle of spellbound grandchildren.
Take a 50 year leap forward to the present with me and see how technology has spawned a ‘future’ that is surprisingly more Rockwellian than Orwellian. If I had not been so mesmerized by the scene I might have grabbed my camera so you could see this for yourselves and, I suppose I could have asked the participants to pose for a reenactment, but that would have looked contrived.
Setting the Scene:
It is the summer of 2007. Grandma has rented a house by the beach and invited the family to join her for a week of sun, fun, and relaxation. The house is equipped with wireless internet access and the dining room table is ‘computer central’ with one Macbook (mine) and one Macbook Pro (grandma’s).
A, definitely non-1950’s, Grandmother, one son (myself), one daughter-in-law (my wife), three grandchildren, and a girlfriend of one of the aforesaid grandchildren. The age range for the grandchildren is 15 to 20. You can extrapolate everyone else’s ages from there.
It is early evening and everyone is back from the beach and getting ready to go out to dinner. My wife and I are the last to come downstairs and are greeted by this tableau at the dining room table. Grandma is seated in front of her computer screen and is reading out loud. She is surrounded by grandchildren, all of whom are listening with rapt attention while looking over grandma’s shoulder to see the screen from when comes the source of her story.
Grandma is not reading “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. She is reading, from the New York Times online, David Pogue’s review of Apple’s new iPhone.
Now the moral of this story might very well be that technology is becoming the ‘glue’ that can once again unite the generations. Then again, since the significant ‘enabling hardware’ in the story has been produced by Apple, perhaps we ought to subtitle this post “Steve and his Amazing Techno-Friendly Dream GUI”. Alternatively, the subtitle could be “Ain’t Grandma Cool!” although it’s definitely not “Technologically Challenged Children Seek Advice From Grandma”. But I digress.
The computer and the cell phone have become part of the everyday lives of all the characters in this story. They are the tools that keep us connected to the world and to each other. The fact that Grandma is regarded with respect and as a credible source of information by kids who have been raised on, and are very proficient with, today’s technological marvels says more about the universality of these innovations than it does about a potential generational bridge.
It’s not the age equals wisdom paradigm that gives Grandma her credibility here. It’s the fact that Grandma is exhibiting technological parity. She’s got Mac and she knows how to use it. More than that, she’s got the Macbook Pro! I have a slightly lesser stature, not by dint of my junior status nor because I am any less proficient with the technology, but because I have a regular Macbook.
So, as heartwarming as it was for me to create a parallel between the scene occurring in around my mother’s Macbook Pro and an early to mid-twentieth century vision of family values in action, I was way off base. I was not witnessing “respect for the wisdom of the ages”. It is more accurate to say that I was watching a discussion taking place amongst a group of tecnological peers. In spite of their differences in age everyone gathered in that room belonged to the same technological generation. And, in that moment, watching from outside the circle, I was the only one who didn’t immediately understand that.