You May Apply an Expensive, Fine-Line-Diminishing Moisturizer Both Morning and Night, but If You Use Email to Communicate with Your Friends and A Video of Your Birth Wasn’t Posted Online, You’re Not Fooling Anyone

My mom is 77. She’s had a digital camera for years and uses it all the time—but she’s never downloaded a single picture from her camera to her computer. Instead, she snaps her photos and then takes the memory card from her camera and puts it in the photo printing machine at Walmart. She has prints made of all her digital photos. Emotionally, it’s important to her that she have paper copies of all her pictures so that she can sort them, stack them, put them in a scrapbook. When I have suggested to her that she might just download her photos onto her computer, review them there, and then only get prints made of a select few (if she has a place in her house she wants to display one, for example), she literally shudders. It is unthinkable, undoable, for her to have photos that only exist digitally. Instead, she only feels easy and right when her photos have been printed, scrapbooked, and stuck on the shelf.

I understand this, as I struggled, when got our first digital camera, to let go of the need to have prints. Once my pragmatic husband pointed out that it made no sense to pay money to get something made that is then stuck into a box or on a shelf, however, I was able to peel back from my impulses. Cleverly, he opened my mood to the topic by pressing an Imperial Stout into my hand at the start of the conversation. When I tried to argue, “But what if I want to show someone my pictures?”, he said, “Take another gulp, and consider this: instead of going down into the basement and pulling a photo album off the shelf, just go to the computer and pull up the pictures you want to share. It’s as easy to sit in front of a computer and look at pictures as it is to sit on the couch and look at pictures. In either place, you can still bore your audience with endless details about places they haven’t been and people they’ve never met. If it isn’t hard copies holding them hostage, then you’ve saved on money, space, and the energy that would go into the creation of that paper and scrapbook and running the print-making machine, not to mention the sheer amount of glue that will be saved for later use, say, for making googly-eyed monsters at Halloween. In fact, there might be enough glue saved from not scrapbooking that you could invite the children to join you in that project this October instead of making them watch your googly-eyed joy longingly from across the enforced ‘Me Time’ buffer of ten feet.” By the time Byron had finished this lengthy prattle, I was eyeballing the bottom of my glass of stout, amenable to anything, particularly a refill. So, we don’t get many prints made, and I use online photo sharing systems for displaying my pictures.

Then there’s my daughter, who takes photos with her iPod Touch, uploading them directly to Instagram, where she plays around with all sorts of effects and messages. Her friends who aren’t on Facebook (technically, they’re all still too young) connect with her there, and they send each other messages and share fantastically-doctored photos on a daily basis. She is particularly proud of a photo of glitter sprinkling across a hand, the same way my mom is proud of her stack of several hundred pictures of flowers in Hawaii.

From my mom to me to my Girl, we all love the power of photographs, but the way each of us is comfortable harnessing that power differs. It’s generational, spanning age groups from older folks who consider big band music “too modern for my ears” to young nippers who think auto-tuned voices are “how people sound when they sing,” and it’s not just about pictures; the generation gap extends into all kinds of technology.

Of course, it’s unfair to stereotype technology use entirely according to age lines, as so much depends on the individual. My mom can’t figure out how to attach anything to an email, yet my husband’s 97-year-old grandfather spent his last years scanning old family photographs, digitizing them so as to preserve them for the future. This same struggles-with-attachment mom, however, formed a permanent one by using Senior Friend Finder (parent company: Penthouse…va-va-va-voom), an online matchmaking service that kept her in boyfriends for a few years before ultimately yielding the desired prize in the form of an 87-year-old husband. For my own 45-year-old self, I’ve hardly ever touched a smartphone, but my friend Kirsten, also in her 40s, spends her days responding to the buzzing vibration of hers. My 12-year-old daughter can add a sepia effect to a picture of her best friend swimming at the lake, but her 41-year-old father is the one who can use Photoshop to add flippers to her earlobes and place that best friend into a lake on Mars.

A sub-category here is Gamers. In cliched fashion, everyone bemoans that today’s kids are addicted to the Wii, the Xbox, their handheld devices–that they don’t read or spend their days outside getting dirty and sunburned. But that’s too easy a complaint, and it ignores the reality of the nine-year-olds I know who will read for three hours at a stretch as recovery from running through the sprinkler wielding swords. It also ignores the reality of the forty-three-year old Call of Duty: Black Ops addict who opens conversations with “I’ve got enough kills to unlock the cherry metal camo for my weapon!” My old lady reaction to this type of peer is to find his “juvenile” technology use jarring and to gasp, “At our age, honey, shouldn’t we be talking about scotch and mortgage payments and our mistresses?”

Despite the frequent disconnect between age and technology use, some broad observations can be made about the generation gap, and they hold true so long as your inquisitive self keeps its magnifying glass snug in its felt-lined case.

For example, if you receive a forward through email, and the subject line reads FW: FW: FW: FW: while the contents are a rant about “This is not a racist email, but all the veterans in my family didn’t go to war under the Mexican flag,” you can pretty much be sure the sender of that email is over 65. Similarly, alarmist emails (anyone remember those dangerous bananas in Guatemala a few years back?) that spur me directly to so that I can send a link and a note of “You really shouldn’t believe this stuff, Auntie Bev” are invariably sent out by senior citizens, as well.

It also seems that people over 65 or 70 are reluctant to join Facebook, and if they do sign up, they rarely post updates or comments. Perhaps they are happy to lurk; perhaps they are confused as to who can see what bits of information; perhaps they recoil from the easy dropping of privacy; perhaps they are uncomfortable with the quick back-and-forthing that constitutes communication; perhaps they can’t remember their log-in information; or perhaps they occasionally visit The Book of Face just to stare at their thumbprint-sized avatars, marveling that their tiny face is out in public, being famous like that, and wasn’t it nice of their grandson to sit down with them that Sunday and help them resize a photo and upload it to this website that they now can’t figure out how to navigate.

Trust me: for each of the possibilities listed above, I have the face of a real person flashing onto my mind’s screen as I type.

Then there are the people in their middle decades of life who adapt to the various new technologies, who can see that smartphones and texting and social media can help them stay organized or track their kids’ whereabouts or revive faded friendships. Part of the Middle Agers’ use of technology, though, is rueful. They download new recipe apps happily…yet they recall, wistfully, the illicit fun of listening in on a party line, of winding a spiral telephone cord around their fingers distractedly during long phone conversations, of using cassette players to record Saturday Night Live skits off the television. They may use their cell phones as their alarm clocks, but they’ll also bend your ear with nostalgic tales of diving boards and AM radio. What’s more, they view the conventions of texting with undeniable disdain, harrumphing about misspellings and the death of apostrophes with a mixture of agony and condescension.

Trust me: I know someone exactly like this, and she wears my pants and drives my car.

A bit younger yet are those in their 20s or late teens, people who adapted technology use deeply into their lives early in their existences. They grew up with gaming systems, DVDs, never using longhand to write an essay.  Their earliest years of elementary school were shaped by the movement to “get computers into our classrooms,” and they took it for granted that they could stand outside their houses and have a chat on the cordless telephone, if they liked. They were funneled towards IT jobs—always assured that there was demand for employees in computer programming and Web design.

Trust me: these are today’s college students, and their voices are in my head.

But then.

Even younger still

are the kids—

those preteens and elementary-school leg tuggers–

who have had pervasive technologies so deeply woven into their every hour that they have no frame of reference for “before” and “after.” Being able to tell anyone, anywhere in the world, that they are eating a Fudgsicle, as they are eating it…distracting their minds by lobbing birds that are inexplicably angry at pigs that are inexplicably green…writing a research paper without ever visiting a library or touching a periodical…checking the weather by looking at an app instead of the sky…watching, along with thirteen million others, the Harvard Baseball team lip-sync Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”…developing friendships with people they’ve only met once (or never at all)…learning long division on a Smart Board…

all of these things are the new normal for First World kids and, therefore, we might argue, for the future leaders of the planet.

I’m not a fan of complaining about change or pushing back against the tide. At one point, parents and screaming teens alike had their breath taken away by Elvis’ swiveling hips. Attempting to censor or modulate Elvis didn’t make him stop (a job better left to prescription pills and fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches). Nor did forcing teenage boys to get haircuts put a damper on The Beatles. If it’s coming, it’s coming, and all we can control is our responses to the nebulous force of It.

Personally, I do okay. I’m on par with my generation, perhaps a bit ahead in a few things and a bit behind in others. Sounds like life to me. I look at my daughter’s relationship with technology and, rather than feeling despair, I trust her judgment. As she told me a few weeks ago, when I noted that she was on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter (among others) and that she should always be thinking of how much she wants to expose herself and how other people might use the information she puts out there, her reply went, “I have all those accounts, but I don’t really use them very much. I’m only 12. It’s not like I have a lot to report.”

Ultimately, I guess I’m keeping up, if occasional limping qualifies as “keeping up,” and I can rely upon that Girl of mine to keep me current. Take, for instance, one of our finest moments of mother/daughter bonding in recent months. It occurred entirely on Facebook as we sat in the same house at the same time. I saw I had a new private message from her, written in response to a joking “So what’ve you been up to since I saw you last?” question I’d sent.

“Here’s what’s been up,” her message read. Then she had attached this:

The same way Elvis’ hips swiped the breath from the chests of WWI vets, this image of my Girl’s first break-up (it had been a low-key 6th grader “going steady” kind of thing, largely facilitated by the fact that they both rode the same bus) caused me to emit an “Oof.” I tried hard not to put myself inside her head during those Adjustment Minutes between 8:55 and 9:06 p.m. It almost worked.

Jinkies. Thanks to technology, I was witness to my first baby’s first time getting dumped.

Naturally, because I’m Old School, I immediately walked to her room for some face-to-face and said, “So, I just saw your message about you and Now-Ex-Boyfriend. How are you doing with that?”

“Fine. It’s not a big deal.” She wasn’t lying. At no point during the year has it been a big deal; more than anything, it was like these two agreed to “date” so that they didn’t have to deal with the pressures to “date.”

“So you’re all right?”

“Totally. Right now, I’m just trying to figure out right now who sings this new song.”

Okay then. I let it rest–while still shaking my head a little at learning of my daughter’s love life on Facebook from a screenshot taken on her iPod.

Apparently, this is how we’ll continue to roll. Two weeks later, I got a FB message from her, asking: “Can I… Or could I? I don’t know which one ^. Start shaving my legs sometime soon?”

You better believe I hit reply and then we hit the Walgreen’s.

An hour later, we sat together on the edge of the tub, lathered up our legs with shaving cream, and practiced not cutting ourselves with razors. We talked about soccer and the heat and how dirty her feet were. We talked about armpit hair and when I started shaving, way back nearly thirty-five years ago. We wondered when Daddy had started using a brush to apply his lather. We speculated about when Paco will start being hairy.

The thing is

and here’s the thing:

the best moments of life

are charged without a cord

and happen in real time

with nary a pixel in sight.




18 responses to “You May Apply an Expensive, Fine-Line-Diminishing Moisturizer Both Morning and Night, but If You Use Email to Communicate with Your Friends and A Video of Your Birth Wasn’t Posted Online, You’re Not Fooling Anyone”

  1. Green Girl in Wisconsin Avatar
    Green Girl in Wisconsin

    Yep, technology can’t change EVERYTHING. Though it does change a lot.
    We are so like-minded, Jocelyn, it’s mind-blowing.
    And I have developed a very strong prejudice against old people using technology–the forwards from my grandma and elderly aunts convinced me that email is a dangerous tool.
    Oddly, I have a 13 year old who believes everything he sees on the Internet, not wholly unlike those little old ladies who believe everything they read in a “newspaper” like The Enquirer. Guess we’re not necessarily smarter, just looking through different lenses.

  2. Lil Avatar

    Well there you go, Green Girl took the words right out of my fingertips.

  3. kmkat Avatar

    I had an over-65 friend who used to forward those emails to me. Once or twice I replied with a well-reasoned and -research response about why *those* people are nothing new and how the previous generations of them had NOT ruined the country and that we should all relax a bit and be more tolerant. She was gracious enough to reply that maybe I was right.

    Then she died.

    I used to have hopes that our world would be a better place as my and other, younger generations came to dominate it. But I am disheartened by the racism and arrogance and selfishness that still seems to be part of these generations’ human nature. Things are better than 1950 (and 1850, for that matter) but we still have a long way to go. ::sigh::

    Sometimes the good moment CAN happen through pixels, though. Example: when I saw then-16-yo Younger Son’s page on some pre-Facebook website ( maybe?). It was a profile photo of him laughing, and he had Photoshopped an on-off switch onto his cheek. Along the side of the photo he had typed in some facts about himself — he was a techie, not a writer; he liked black and white and hated navy blue; and he loved his parents. My heart melted.

  4. chlost Avatar

    I am one of those in the middle of the techie generation gap. My kids laugh at my lack of techie skills, but many of my peers are impressed that I have technical skills and knowledge. I find it odd that I am emailing a colleague in an office just on the other side of my office wall, as well as blogging with friends from around the world.
    Conflicted. I am conflicted by technology. I dig in my heels at times. No Kindle or Nook yet. But an Ipad does intrigue me. Just got a cell phone within the past 3 years, and love texting. But no smartphone.
    Love, love, love the mind picture of you two sitting on the side of the tub. Btw, the conditioner you use on your hair works extremely well instead of shaving cream, and is easier to use in the shower.

  5. Jeni Hill Ertmer Avatar

    I love the way you lead me on to try to figure out where you’re gonna drop me at the end of your stories and sometimes, I have to stop and shake my head a bit, wondering at the confusion in my mind that sometimes happens with these things. And then, when you reach the end of your words for the day, and I understand what you’ve been trying to say, I also realize what sage advice you give to young and old alike! So, did you come up with a timeline for Paco’s hair growth? Inquiring minds want to know these things and how you deduced the timeline too -just for future reference, ya know.
    Oh -and be sure to have a great 4th of July!

  6. ds Avatar

    I am not smart enough for my phone, but some of the best conversations I have had with my daughter were via text. She’s on FB, we are not, but my inlaws are. It’s a bit uncomfortable when others know what your (adult) child is doing before you do. Suppose that’s the price of not wanting to overexpose oneself (writes the blogger). Don’t you adore irony.
    Happy Fourth to you, Byron, your sensible Girl, currently hairless Paco, and all those googly eyes. Where would we be without googly eyes. That is the real question. ; )

  7. Deborah Avatar

    There is nothing more pointless than saying that I left a long comment, only to find when I clicked ‘post’ that the microwave had cut my internet connection. But there, I’ve said it, and now I’ll say it again.

    A fine piece, Jocelyn. The other night MFB and I and a few friends of our generation were talking about how, when the real oldsters die off, there will be no one left who does not know anything about computers. But although we are both more able technologically speaking than many of our peers, the day has already come when I feel out-done and behind the eight ball compared to the younger ones. And as we move on to take the place of the most senior generation, we’ll be viewed with the same slightly condescending eye and rueful shake of the head. As surrounded as you are by the young, you’ll keep up for a good while longer, better equipped than many to learn and adapt to new technology. And as long as you keep challenging yourself with courses that force you to stay one step ahead, you’ll put off dinosaur-hood for a long time.

    Your Girl seems so well-equipped for life. She didn’t get that way all by herself, so you should give yourself a few pats on the back for coming thus far, and frankly, I wouldn’t worry at all about those teenage years where she’s concerned. You’re also sensible enough to ignore the scary stories about adolescents slamming the door shut on communicating and all the rest of the riff-raff that passes for parenting advice.
    Sometimes I think that my daughter and I get along better in print than in person, which makes me a little sad, but I’m probably just iimagining it. On the positive side, thank god for email, FB and texting which keep us in touch with each other is silly and significant ways despite the gap of an ocean – soon to be two. She’s moving to Australia in a few weeks and without the internet, I think I’d find that much harder to face than I do.

    And for the record, your title is brilliant.

  8. Jenn @ Juggling Life Avatar

    I think those that refuse to get involved in the latest technology are cutting themselves off from wonderful moments with their children–said the woman happily planning a wedding with her daughter via FB chat and Pinterest.

  9. Choochoo Avatar

    I suck at taking photos. I’m always meaning to get better at it, but things and stuff get in the way.

  10. Pearl Avatar

    I have a relative who forwards all of her capitalized fears re: the Current Administration and our Path to Hell. It’s all I can do sometimes to recall that she makes a mean fried chicken and used to sneak me the beaters to lick…

    Still. With the photos. I miss having them to hold, to put in frames.


  11. Jan Avatar

    This is wonderful. We have the same people in my state too! What a lovely, interesting woman your daughter is! I agree — she didn’t get that way all by herself.

    (I think I still have scars up my shin from my first shaving experiences! You may not be old enough to have sliced away strips of skin with an old-fashioned safety razor. It meant weeks of band-aids and than scabs on your legs. Girls weren’t allowed to wear pants to school then either!)

  12. Murr Brewster Avatar

    I am a hopeless hybrid. I’m baffled by much technology, cranky about how much I’m drawn to other technology, and text in complete, punctuated sentences on my new Mobile Cellular Telephone. I don’t know what it’s doing to the kids’ brains. Most of the ones I know are smarter than I am, but that’s only because I’m stupiding up.

  13. Secret Agent Woman Avatar

    I’m reasonably computer savvy considering my advanced geriatric state, but even so it still sometimes amazes me how much kids live on-line. I remember my son telling me he was going to meet his new girlfriend that day at school – they’d started “dating” by text and he wasn’t entirely sure who she was! And yet, I also tease my ex about his texting difficulties and tell him we should have ordered him a Jitterbug.

    But you’re right that you can’t generalize completely – my kids play on-line games, FB, text and so on – but they also devote a lot of time to more active pursuits. In that way, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. As is clearly true in your kids’ cases, too.

  14. Secret Agent Woman Avatar

    (I meant to add that my mother, in her 70’s, regularly complains to me about people who forward her right-wing emails, which she finds appalling.)

  15. Friko Avatar

    It’s all just as it is and no need to get excited over any of it. The people who say ‘I can’t be doing with modern technology’ are perhaps just a bit scared of it; or they have somebody in the house who will do it for them when they feel the need to send an email or pay a bill.

    It’s an absolutely integral part of everyday life, all of it. I’m old enough to smile when I see a family of four – visitors – sitting in my living room, all busy on their gadgets, whether iphone, ipad, ipod or laptop, instead of talking to us or each other. But they will eventually put them down and talk. Or watch TV instead. We can’t compete for long.

    We recently had a special wedding anniversary and I took a row of photograph albums off the shelf and we sat, for over an hour, glass of fizz in hand and album across both laps and marvelled at the places we’d been and things we’d done since the day we got married. One whole album was devoted to wedding photos – grown up ones, not a meringue in sight – and we cuddled up and felt glad all over again. The photos were beautifully arranged on stiff paper and turning each page brought a new delight. I’m not so sure that we would have felt the same had the photos been on my laptop or computer.

    I no longer have paper copies of new photos now; I’ve started to delete quite a few less good ones; I am sorely tempted to collect the best and have them printed. I might not get round to it, of course, because I am too busy keeping in touch with virtual friends and filling hours chatting via the internet, producing ‘filler’ posts for my blog and ‘visiting’ other blogs. There are times when the sheer ridiculous insanity of it rises to the forefront of my mind and I swear I’ll stop some time very soon. When the virtual world, not just the useful and convenient aspects of it, but the social side of it, becomes a bigger part of my life than the flesh and blood world, that’ll have to be the day I give up or give in.

  16. lime Avatar

    may i say (and forgive me for how i never use caps. i know it’s great laziness in typing.), i am so glad i am not the only person out there to send snopes links to the irritating forwarders of email flotsam. as i read i also had images of specific people corresponding to your examples of attitudes. here’s a mind-bender. can you believe i was greatly resistant to having a computer at all and the internet seemed completely ridiculous to me? uh yeah, i obviously got over that.

    i still agree whole-heartedly with the notion that the best experiences are unplugged. made me a bit misty for having younger girls in my house to read of you and your girl.

  17. pam Avatar

    “…and a video of your birth wasn’t posted online”..hahaha- apologies to those who relish their own and others birthing photos, but if anyone came within an inch of me with a camera in my 10 hour complicated labour I would have smacked them away with a few choice words.
    Have really enjoyed the comments here. I’m pretty hopeless with technology – my idea of hell is reading endless instruction manuals. Usually I stand like a wayward child at the computer as my husband says “are you watching what I’m doing here?”. I try so hard to be interested.

  18. Bone Avatar

    First off, what a well-crafted and thoughtful piece of writing.

    Now, on to the unfortunate stuff.

    My mom believes those forwards. *face palm*

    I’ve lost pictures as well as quite a few songs from computer crashes and such, so I tend to fall on the “I want a hard copy” side. I know, I know, back everything up, but the fact is, I might do it once, but then I forget or get lazy about it.

    I recorded episodes of CHiPs onto audio cassette. I mostly disdain Facebook. And as I tweeted recently, “Hath anyone ever considered what vile and terrible atrocities these pigs must have perpetrated upon these birds to have upset them so?”

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