In 1994, I got my first modem. It was my first year of law school, and the magic of having the entire law school library in my own bedroom was astonishing to me. I remember feeling so cutting edge. That summer, working at a law firm, I got my first taste of an intranet – sort of an IM within the firm (which I completely abused, using it solely to banter with the other summer associates) – and then, in 1996, my law school assigned me my first ever e-mail account.
I remember taking to it naturally, as if it had been a part of my life forever. Within months, I couldn’t even imagine life without it. But I also distinctly recall how hard it was for my parents to get used to. My mother got an AOL account somewhere around Y2K, and her insistence on calling email “the email” drove me bonkers. My dad never quite got the hang of it. He still had an aol account when he died in 2009, and since his address correlated with his age, he would change it every year so that it wouldn’t be outdated (or, more likely, so that he wouldn’t forget it). Needless to say, I rarely, if ever, emailed with my dad.
Since that first email in ’96, I’d always felt like I was, if not exactly a part of the technology generation, at least on the periphery of it. I mean, yes, I typed my high school papers on a word-processor, but I had a computer in college, and I was proficient enough in Word, Excel and PowerPoint to put on my resumé that I was proficient in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Plus, I got a cellphone in ‘97, I ditched my paper calendar for a Palm Pilot as soon as they came out, and I was a very early adopter of TiVo.
But then, in 2002, my daughter was born. I got a first generation iPod a few months before she arrived, and that was about the last time I came early to a party. I remember, somewhere around 2003, that some of my childless friends and were texting. I didn’t see the point – why not just email? I took me four more years to finally come on board. I didn’t arrive on Facebook until the summer of 2008, at which point every cool person had already jumped ship and left it for the old people, like me. I have an obligatory Instagram account which I never use, and I held out for years on the e-reader thing, hoping that it would be just a fad.
I find myself complaining – often – about how it’s all moving so fast, and how it’s so hard to keep up. Sometimes, I feel like one of those parents from the 1950’s, who didn’t get why all the kids liked Elvis, or who thought that all boys with long hair were degenerates. And I find myself constantly marveling at how easy it all is for my kids. My daughter shows me a funny video on YouTube, and I’m like, how do you even know about that? My son explains to me about the various Minecraft servers he visits, and I’m like, how do you even find them? And they just shrug, as if it’s all so organic to them, as if they were just born with an ability to suss out the best stuff from all of the crap that’s on the Internet. Which, I suppose, they were.
Last night, my daughter was working on a project for school, and the directions required her to create “stationery” for a letter she has to write, with a border or a background on it. Using Word, she pasted some clipart onto a page, then adjusted it so that the text would appear on top of it. Uh-huh, I thought, as I watched her. So far, so good.
“But how,” I asked, “Will you see the words when the color of the picture is so dark in some places?” She clicked on a toolbar I’d never seen before, and made the picture more transparent. It was amazing. I’ve wished for years that I could do that on the computer – and maybe you’re thinking that I’m a total idiot and that everyone knows how to do that – but for me, this was a revelation. And right then, at that very moment, I realized that I’m a dinosaur. I could actually feel myself fading, just like the picture on her paper.
It makes me sad, a little, to feel like an outsider with my own children; to feel like they inhabit a world in which I will always be a tourist, no matter how hard I try to fit in. But I suppose that every generation is like that with the next one – after all, my parents could hardly wrap their heads around rap music – it’s just another one of those cruel facts of life. I’ll try to stay on top of what’s new, because I’m not one to go down without a fight, but I don’t know who I’m kidding.
For every Vine and Kik that I do know about, there are probably a dozen more that I don’t. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone cares about Twitter. But, hey, at least I don’t call it “The Twitter.” Not yet, anyway.