Technology horn-locking

My father is anti-text message.  Like many well-meaning antagonists, he doesn’t let the fact that he’s never engaged in the practice stop him from delivering censure.  “Are you texting?” he’ll snarl if he catches me typing on my phone. “These kids and their texting.  They don’t know how to have a conversation anymore.”

The first few times I heard this from him I’d say things like “Yes, I am.  For me it’s a convenient and minimally disruptive way of communicating quick details that don’t require the trappings of a full conversation. And I’m not sure you actually know whether or not kids know how to have conversations anymore. Remember how there was a time when your parents probably would have said ‘Why use the phone when you can get on your bike and go ask her in person?'”

“What’s wrong with the phone?” he’d exclaim. We’d proceed along those lines until I changed the subject or he said “Well, everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion.”

I think there’s an extent to which we accept as tradition this locking of horns between generations, particularly with respect to the relative merits or lack thereof of technologies.  There will always be things that are new, and the newer people will take to them more readily than the older people, who may never take to them at all.  The new and the old will disagree, and that is that. Everyone will be entitled to his or her opinion (or at least everyone will have one).

The loss in this resignation is that it forces us apart in ways that it maybe doesn’t have to, and costs us the expansion available in understanding something even if we choose not to adopt it for ourselves. We believe we’re protecting something important (the way things have been) and protecting young people from something (the way things might be becoming) when we stick to what’s familiar and comfortable, insisting that kids also stick to what’s familiar and comfortable for us.  In so doing we show them that we don’t understand where they might be coming from, how things might look to them, and that we’re not really that willing to try.  In the end, we’ve undermined our own intentions. What we set out to do is make anything possible for kids, to be their mentors and guides, and instead we demonstrate that in a quickly shifting world, we’re not available for the reality of the task.

I’m obviously dealing with my father on this in the other direction, and for us the stakes aren’t very high.  We’re already found our way through the transition from child and adult to adult and adult, and it’s that transition during which the handling of this sort of impasse can set an important tone.

But it still couldn’t hurt to make my own attempt to bend our exchanges in a different direction.  Next time he gets after me about the messaging, maybe I’ll try something like this: “I know this is weird for you, Dad.  Wanna know why I find it useful?”

Or who knows, maybe one of these times his curiosity will take over and he’ll say “Now, explain to me why you’d say whatever you’re saying in a text message rather than making a call.”