7.19.2005


If your in your mid- twenties (and chances are strong that you are, if you're reading this), like me, you're bilingual. Well, kind of. First off, we assume you know the English language, at least if you've gotten this far. Secondly, despite any other foreign languages you may know, you also speak "tech." The language of the computer era. Its interesting, if you think about it...

Your parents didn't grow up speaking tech. Tech is a language that basically grew up with you. It was practically unknown when you were a youngster, but it was there (like you), growing day by day. It hit its adolescence about the same time you did, but instead of zits and hair in new places, it had its www's and @'s and dot's. And it kept growing, until it hit its savvy, fast-paced, high energy 20's. And who knows where it will go from here. Just like you.

You may consider yourself less hip to the tech talk than others your age, but the fact remains - you grew up with it all around you, and you're much more familiar with it than 95% of the people who are older than you.

One place that you can see the tech language barrier in full effect is in the home. You know how it is - you go home to visit the folks for a few days and you feel a familial (perhaps even patriotic) duty to install Firefox and Spybot and a couple ad-blockers on their poor, vulnerable new Dell. Well, hopefully they got a Dell. Parents are sadly susceptible to marketing (unlike their more jaded children) and often will buy a computer because they saw that "it comes in a box that looks like a cow!" Or perhaps yours were the price-savvy type that bought an Orion or some other obscure Japanese brand because it was half the price of all the other computers at Comp USA (wonder why that was). Either way, there it sits, whatever kind it is, and its new, and pitifully under-utilized.

Perhaps no where is the dichotomy between those comfortable with computers and those who didn't grow up in the tech era more visible, however, than in the office. Its interesting, being the guy who was subtly being taught by Dig-Dug and Word Perfect 1.0 on a bright green screen when he was 12 years old. You didn't realize how much you learned along the way, until one day you're sitting there pretending to work really hard on a Monday morning, and your boss' boss walks up to you and tells you his email broke again. Like its a shoddy toaster oven or something that just wore out after too many slices of rye. Right. It just broke. You had nothing to do with it.

But you don't say that. You jump right on the opportunity to become the Divisional Manager's pet - the guy he always goes to when he needs someone to talk tech to his computer for him. He normally just kind of haggles with it in broken tech, like he's trying agree on a price with a Chinese street vendor. You barely even notice that he never in fact asked you to fix it, he only told you that it broke. He didn't ask because he's not entirely sure you can do it, until the first time he watches you. And it wouldn't matter if he video-taped your every move, the next time he forgets to compress his 3 bajillion undeleted emails, he's gonna be right back at your sad excuse for a desk (and hopefully you won't be on PartyPoker.com when he shows up). Its still kind of fun to tell them what you're doing, and listen to them "uh-huh" you like they're catching on. The same way that you talk to them when they're discussing the higher functions of the business that you don't usually have to deal with. Ironic.

You walk back to your desk and write down his passwords and put them in your "in case I ever get fired..." safety folder.

The responses you get from the older generation can vary a lot, it seems, depending on the person in question. Parents usually have that blithe approach of "oh I had no idea you could do that...that's amazing...show me again what you just did...wait where are my glasses...". That's endearing and lovable, because hey, they're your parents. So you work with them time and again to show them how to attach the picture to the email, over and over and over. It can be a different story in the workplace, though - lots of other things can enter the picture. First off, you have your normal duties to do, and if you spend half your day killing the spyware that "just started popping up" on the boss' computer, you're also killing precious net surfing minutes in your soon-to-be-non-existent evening. Secondly, the pride is often a factor. They know enough to know what they don't know, and it can be embarrassing to have to go to someone half your age to get them to help you do your job. Sometimes it might even be just plain old jealousy - they wish they could do what you can, but all those '.exe's are just a little to intimidating.

And often times you get the just plain stubborn. "I did it before this way and it works and that's how I'll do it again." There is, perhaps, nothing in the world so frustrating to watch as a person set in their ways, refusing to accept the higher, faster, wiser, better path that you can so quickly point them too. The gospel of Google falls on different types of soil as well.

The funny thing is that my little brother, not a decade younger than me, will never really deal with these types the way I have to. By the time he's done with college and hits whatever industry he falls into, guys like the managers of today will be the last of the wandering dinosaurs. Some of them will have made it into the upper echelons of senior management (shudder), some will have managed to retire, who knows where the rest will be - maybe trying to figure out why their register at McDonald's "just broke." But the dichotomy will be long gone. People like you and me will be where they are now - sitting in the management positions, but able to speak tech - to varying degrees, depending on our experience and attraction to the culture itself. That (or wanting to talk to a foreign girl) is usually about the only reason you bother to learn a language in the first place, right?

I think that perhaps people my age will be able to stay up with the trends, if they try - understand the changes that computers and the net and whatnot will go through, and embrace them. What scares me, a little, is what new stuff, tech I can't even imagine right now, or perhaps something even beyond the realm of tech, might come along that perhaps might make us dinosaurs a little before our time. Which is entirely possible - who knew 30 years ago, before we were even conceived, that the modern world would be speaking this new universal language? Artificial Intelligence, digitized living experiences, total connectivity, whatever the new things may be - they're coming. And some day you're going to have to ask someone half your age to show you how it works.

2 comments:

Me said...

This is SO good! I can't even deal with my mom when she asks me to show her how to use the computer. It's frustrating! I can't understand why she can't figure out where the start button is, and she gets too frustrated to really try I think. We've both given up, and her Dell sits in her room totally unused by her for almost a year now.

Sara

Jamie said...

Hey yo.
Thanks for the comment on my blog. Just wondering--where'd ya find me?