When I walk at a nearby park, I see children in strollers staring at cell phones and iPads. I wasn’t born with an iPhone in my hand. I’m a member of the “in between” generation. As a child, we didn’t have answering machines, cell phones or computers. I’m really dating myself when I admit to remembering what we called “party lines.” We actually shared a phone number with someone else and we could eavesdrop on each other’s conversations.
We’ve come a long way from those days, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing for a lot of us. My generation weathered the transition from dial phones to push buttons. From sitting at home waiting for a call to having answering machines. From coiled up wired plug-in phones to clumsy car phones and finally to cell phones. We went from floppy discs to hard disks, hard drives and the Cloud. When I think back, it was all kind of breathtaking. And not necessarily in a good way.
My nephew is in his mid-thirties and when I told him there was a time when we didn’t have voice mail or cell phones, he was stunned. He couldn’t begin to imagine it. He grew up with his head buried in a screen and now, it’s second nature to him. I grew up with typewriters, Xerox machines, tape recorders, and clock radios and sometimes I feel like a dinosaur when I’m trying to figure out how to do something new on my computer
Years ago, I remember getting riled up and frustrated when I was trying to post something on my web site. I worked myself up into such a frenzy, I could hardly breathe. At the time, I had a go-to friend, Steven, who was a computer whiz. He was my age but he was born that way. His mind wrapped around technology from the start and I got into the habit of calling and asking him to come over to help me with my computer or tell me what to do over the phone. He obliged me for quite a while but as the number of times I reached out escalated, he started to get annoyed. One day, he had clearly had enough. When I emailed him for the fifth time, he sent me a return email that said, “R T F M.
I picked up the phone. “What does that mean?” I asked him.
“Read The F**king Manual.”
I was a little ashamed at first but he was right. I had stopped trying to learn. I was leaning on him too much and it was time to try to work things out for myself. I breathed, I focused my attention, I told myself I could do it, and although it took a while, eventually, I figured it out. I have a friend in her eighties who had a similar experience. She does surprisingly well with her tech problems but one day, she was completely stumped. When she called her grandson to help her, he said, “Google it, Grandma.” That become a slogan for both of us.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t turn to other people. We need to ask for help with our electronic devices. That’s what tech nerds are for. But it’s important to try first, to stretch our minds into unfamiliar territory and see if we can find our way. These days, I try to be courageous enough to tackle a problem that stumps me. It’s like untangling knots in a chain necklace. I work hard to overcome the reluctance to learn new things like figuring out a new and updated remote for the TV. Using bar codes to read restaurant menus on my phone. Making and receiving payments on Venmo, Paypal and Zelle.
If we crumble, feel stupid and resent the time it takes to figure things out, if we refuse to use our brains in a new way, create some new synapses and get some kind of satisfaction from it, that’s called “getting old.” That’s called being stubborn and refusing to keep up with the times. I don’t want to get stuck in the past and miss the new and exciting things that are becoming available. I want to keep moving forward, learn the new language that has arisen and feel vital, physically, mentally and spiritually. I don’t want to be afraid to ask questions and listen to the answers with an open heart and an open mind. I want to always try before I ask for help. I want to be a young old person, proud to display my hard earned wrinkles and the wisdom I’ve gained over a lifetime of listening, discovering and speaking my mind. Most of all, I want to remain curious and continue to learn new things until I say “Syonara,” and move on with grace and dignity to the next schoolroom that is waiting for me.