THERE’S NOTHING AN OLD GEEZER hates more than being unable to handle new technology. Speaking for myself, I have given up buying anything more complex than a $39.95 fan-heater. That’s because the handbook/manual that goes with most other new appliances assumes a level of technological skill which an old fool like me will never master.
And if I find it hard going, imagine the assault of Internet-everything on the brain of the truly elderly!
I recently tried to persuade my 89-year-old father to get set up on the Internet. The two 14-year-olds I’d brought with me, to put Dad in touch with the rest of the world, got him a Gmail account and a Facebook profile.
I could see the old-boy’s eyes slowly glazing over, and it was clear, that from very early on in the proceedings, that he was affording us a ritual politeness which was masking total confusion.
Dad rang me the next day, saying that he was really sorry, but he didn’t think he would be following through on the process … and muttering something about being too busy with his wood-lathe.
Nostalgia, someone has observed, has its origins in the search for a word that means the ache of memory.
For an elderly soul living alone, having lost the dear spouse who used to take care of every transaction and all the paperwork, that ache becomes more acute with each passing day. That which liberates the young (i.e. the Internet) can marginalise those dear people who “used to love dealing with that nice lady at the Post Shop.”
This reticence is not a matter of dogged refusal to change. It just feels like we woke up one day and everything was different – so much so that the social order of things seems askew.
I’ve been reading a fascinating book called The Shallows by a guy called Nicolas Carr. Carr takes a swipe at the way many of us use the Internet.
He says the web’s “cacophony of stimuli” and “crazy quilt” of information have given rise to “cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.” This is in contrast to the era of the printed word, when
intelligent humans were encouraged to be contemplative and imaginative.
He admits: “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a jet ski.”
Carr writes, “If you were to set out to invent a medium that would rewire our mental circuits as quickly and thoroughly as possible, you would probably end up designing something that looks and works a lot like the Internet.” He goes on … “The online world so taxes the parts of the brain that deal with fleeting and temporary stuff, that deep thinking becomes increasingly impossible.”
Among the young people Nicholas Carr calls ‘digital natives’, he says he’s repeatedly seen a lack of human contact skills – like maintaining eye contact, or noticing non-verbal cues in a conversation.
I realise I’m becoming a pretty similar geezer to my Dad. Seems to me there’s a new ‘unspoken etiquette’ that has crept into our lives. The rule now seems to be that we don’t reach out and make a phone-call, unless it is absolutely necessary. There are processes such as Facebook messaging, txts and emails which are ‘preferable’ unless the phone-call or even having the person over for a cuppa are absolutely vital.
Because we all lead busy lives, don’t we?
No wonder the Old Man prefers to stick with his lathe and a long phone chat.
ROB HARLEY IS ONE OF NEW ZEALAND’S TOP DOCUMENTARY MAKERS, AN AUTHOR, AND A HIGHLY INSPIRATIONAL SPEAKER. HE’S A WORLD RENOWNED STORY-TELLER, A SOMETIMES HARLEY-DAVIDSON RIDER AND A GREAT KIWI BLOKE.