A few weeks ago I told some friends, who owed me money for theater tickets I had purchased for them, that I would take only real cash for paying back. They wanted to use an app on their phone called Venmo, which is supposed to make things easier and allow you to be your own bank.
All of this may be true, but when I’ve used the app in the past, it felt like I hadn’t really received the money. My phone was paid. The app was paid. But I wasn’t.
So I decided to ask for the mode of technology I know best: hard cash.
And then my younger friend (by 10 years) joked back and said: “What’s next? You want me to call you on the actual phone?”
And that’s when I knew I had crossed that great technological divide. The one that separates the generations into those who get it and those who don’t. Guess which group I’m now in?
There’s always a sure sign that you’ve moved on to obsolescence in the face of technological advancement. In the way past, it might have happened to the elders who got left behind because they wouldn’t get on that contraption with the wheel on it. Or those very smart people who didn’t get on that thing called an airplane when those Wright brothers told them what goes up will stay up.
But today, so much of the technological divide is all about the little thing we all carry in our pockets and purses: our cellphones. Yes, the smartphone which makes so many of us feel dumb.
My daughter came home the other day from a cellphone store and could not stop laughing about the older gentleman who said his phone was broken because he couldn’t find the text message he insisted his grandson had sent him.
The clerk patiently tried to explain that his grandson hadn’t texted him but had posted something on the Facebook app which then notified him on his phone. The gentleman could not understand this concept and kept asking the same question again, hoping for a different answer.
I can totally relate. If you don’t understand that your phone isn’t a phone anymore but a conduit for apps, you’ll never understand all the pings, dings and notifications you’re receiving. This poor guy was in a brave new world that exists just to confound anyone over the age of 35.
Even if he did finally get it, he’ll feel dumb soon enough because those phones are too smart to stay the same for too long. I’m certain those constant updates exist so I can feel constantly behind.
I knew it was bad when I kept getting alerts that I needed an IOS 18.104.22.168.111111 update for my phone to keep working … as a phone. And I knew things were very bad when I kept getting a very annoying message from my phone that it hadn’t been backed up in about 99 weeks. I kept wondering, “Why do I need to back it up if I don’t understand or use half the things my phone does?”
Things got even worse when I got a new phone a few months ago. I didn’t even get the latest version of the phone, just a newer version of my old phone. In the transition, all my settings disappeared and I descended into cellphone hell (which I’m sure would only have been the 5th Circle of Hell instead of the 7th Circle I was in if only I had uploaded IOS 22.214.171.124.11111).
But the worst consequence of the new phone was that no one could actually hear me on my cellphone when I was talking on it at home. Ironically I had to use our landline, which we only keep for nostalgia and for every debt-solution company to be able to call us every day between 3 and 10 p.m.
Fixing my phone so I could use it as a phone took three days and many, many wasted hours. Specifically, it took five hours on the phone one day with a lovely man in California, a three-hour visit to the Apple store with three different geniuses on another day and three new versions of the phone. Oh, and a skinned knee when I fell walking back into the store because the second of the three new phones still wasn’t working.
The irony of all that effort was, when I got home, the phone still didn’t work as a phone. So on the third day I finally called my techno-guy, Shane. Whenever I yell “Shane,” just like in the eponymous movie, he comes riding to my rescue and fixes my computer. Shane doesn’t even have an iPhone, but he brilliantly figured out that all I needed to do was re-set a setting on my phone to allow my cellular service to use the Wi-Fi in my home so my phone could work as a phone in my home.
I am not kidding.
And if you can make sense of all that, you are clearly under the age of 25. I swear cellphones are just like dog whistles. Only dogs can hear those whistles, and only a young person can make sense of the modern cellphone.
This whole “phone-as-a-phone” debacle made me realize that I should not jump into every technological advancement that has come our way without keeping the old backup systems around to help me traverse the constantly changing technology around me.
I hate you, Steve Jobs (may you rest in peace). Actually, may you not rest in peace but keep getting notifications you can’t understand on your phone, just like that guy in Greek mythology who had to roll a boulder up a hill only for it to keep rolling down again.
You know you’ve gotten older when you start to long for the simpler days of a technology-free life. The days of the landline and flip phone. Yes, less connection, less community, but less risk of things going wrong.
Imagine a world with no passwords to have to change constantly and then instantly forget when you need them. My husband has a five-page spreadsheet of passwords which doesn’t help me at all when I’m actually in need of the passwords.
All this tech has even created jobs to help the tech-challenged. Pam Holland founded Tech Moxie, a company based in Washington, D.C., to provide technology coaching, consultation and instruction for older adults or, as she calls us, late-adopters. www.tech-moxie.com
Holland told me it’s not really a generational divide, but a mindset that often causes consternation. “You don’t need to know everything there is to make your device work. You just need to be willing to ask questions.”
Young people do this naturally, sharing information and tools that help them traverse constantly changing technology. She believes that shared learning can solve many elder issues with technology. That, and acknowledging that sometimes even experts don’t have all the answers.
And I suppose that’s right. Even engineers sometimes find the little computers in their pockets confounding. So instead of feeling dumb about my phone, I’m going to start asking for help—even if that means having my friends laugh at me for my “old school” ways.
After I insisted on the cash repayment, my friend who offered to call my landline also asked if I still watch TV programs on a television at the scheduled programmed time, listen to FM radio, or show up unannounced at people’s houses for a visit.
Well, yes, I do all those things, and I suppose I always will. You can teach an old dog new tricks, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do the old ones, too.
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