February 04, 2008

Interacting Geekily With A Set of Septuagenarians

On Saturday night, my wife and I had the opportunity to put together a birthday party for my mother-in-law, who just marked her 80th birthday. As part of that celebration, I had prepared a slideshow, using Apple's Keynote software, showing more than 90 photos from her life. Lugging the laptop and connecting to projector, I set the slideshow on loop as background for the party, as we could see her start as a baby, gradually grow older, and then, start again.

Even this relatively simple use of technology drew awe from the group, who despite seeing the majority live in Silicon Valley, from Menlo Park, Mountain View, Palo Alto and the surrounding areas, were separated from the Internet generation by a good number of years. As many of them came to praise the slideshow, and asked me how I had done it... were the photos on CD?... I had to but grimace when I knew I hadn't started it until Saturday afternoon, and that the heavy lifting had in fact been done through Apple's software, and the application of an Antique-style theme, not instead, due to some wizardry on my part.

This real-life realization of the gap between how I grasp technology and gravitate toward new services, versus the slower road taken by those just a generation or further ahead, got me thinking. How aware were they of the latest in technology news, and what relevance did my cutting-edge dabblings have for them?

Taking place just a day after Microsoft's proposed take-over of Yahoo!, a pair talked to me about the possibility, and asked what I thought would happen. In that conversation, it was clear one knew what YouTube was, and they vaguely knew Google had purchased the company, but when I said it was for $1.65 billion, they were surprised to the level of detail. I didn't dare ask anybody if they used Twitter, or Facebook, or were familiar with RSS feeds. It's possible they might have TiVo, but more likely they had just moved to DVD, in addition to their VCR.

At one point, I was surprised when I mentioned storage, that one of them not only had a vague idea as to how big her hard drive was, but said that as a digital photographer, she wanted advice on the best external hard drives to get. I tried to help. But this incident was the exception. It's often hard enough to explain to people what I do for a living, or where I work, or what makes us different. It's quite another to explain how I've taken a interest in technology and extended to include blogging (which my guess is that some knew about), RSS feeds, startups, social networking and news aggregators.

The goal of getting my mother-in-law off AOL, and her ancient Dell besides, is now almost 5 years in the running. In that time, she's purchased two Mac laptops, including a MacBook Pro, yet that month-old machine is still in its box, unopened. And while we've given her wireless through Airport Express, she's not moving around the house on her laptop. Not yet. I've now been told the plan to move off Windows and to her Mac is after she gets her bedroom re-designed. Moving slowly and serially is the plan, and just maybe it'll happen this time.

But in a world when the days behind you far outnumber the days in front of you, the need to multi-task and remain cutting-edge just isn't there. While I'm more likely to share an RSS feed or e-mail you a link, I instead might get clips from this week's Mercury News. Even when the older generation is trying to keep up, they're falling further behind. And maybe that's okay. I just hope that as my decades increase, and I move from 30 to 40 to 50 and beyond, I don't also slow down and fall behind, but can remain relevant and aware of the world of tech. Otherwise, please tell my system to Shut Down.


  1. well as one who has moved with the technology and quite often on the bleeding edge I can assure you Louis that I don't think you , your wife or your children; and their childern, will experience that type of "lag".

    We have had the benefit of growing up or at the very least old enough when things really started moving to be able to keep on the crest of any tech waves that may have come our way.

  2. I believe age is, to a large degree, a state of mind. Your curiosity about what is to come and willingness to learn plays a large part.

    I enjoyed your post. While many folks write about the next, new thing, few write about its larger relevance to folks outside our little web 2.0 world.