According to the Declaration of Independence — no, not that one, the other one — The Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, I am considered a digital immigrant due to my advanced age.
As offensive and judgmental as that designation is, it’s hard to find support for disagreement. When the document first appeared in 1996, I was still three years away from buying my first computer and learning how to operate it. Before taking that monumental leap, I spent many evenings at the library practicing on their computers.
At the end of the allotted hour on the first of those sessions, I had not yet figured out how to turn on the computer. My 6-year-old daughter came skipping downstairs from the children’s section where she had been kicked out after her hour of computer time was up and she turned it on for me, just in time to turn it off.
So the next time, instead of me taking her upstairs and settling her in for her play date in the children’s section, she got me set up in the adult section for mine, made sure the computer was turned on and that I had accessed the internet before getting on the elevator to go play Donkey Kong or whatever it was she did up there.
By the time she came down an hour later, I had set myself up with a Yahoo email address and written it down on my notepad along with the first of the approximately five million passwords I have accumulated since then.
The next few weeks were such a slow-going misery, I was tempted into my first, and hopefully last, foray into country music songwriting. With Al Gore’s buzzword, “information superhighway” being all the rage at the time, I penned this gem:
“I’m stuck in the driveway of the information superhighway, I can’t even get out of ‘help.’
I’m stuck in the driveway of the information superhighway, my little girl makes fun of me.”
Thankfully, before I concocted any sad verses to go with that pathetic chorus, I began to catch on to the whole computer/internet/digital thing, but there was definitely a learning curve and it was a different learning curve for the 40-year-old and the 6-year-old.
Several years later, when I had a retail store and my then-teenage daughter worked for me on Saturdays and after school, the digital immigrant (me) mandated a strict no-texting policy on the digital native (her).
As a digital immigrant, I felt it was rude to be texting while she was engaged with customers. But for all I knew, she — being a digital native — might be texting the customer she was helping. I can’t help it, and I know my digital immigration status is showing, but that sort of thing still makes zero sense to me.
Anyway, we were a few months away from smart phones at the time and she had a cute little flip phone like everybody else did. And one day as I passed by her going to the stock room, I saw that while she was standing behind the cashier’s desk talking to a customer, her right arm was extended holding her phone down by her leg, and her little fingers were flying over the keypad. Mind you, this was a flip phone with a 10-key keyboard. You know, the kind where you have to punch the ‘7’ key four times to get an ‘S.’
She was clicking away on that dinosaur at the speed of light without so much as a glance. And while carrying on a conversation with a customer. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it.
During the inevitable conversation that resulted (after the customer was gone), the digital divide of our ages couldn’t have been more pronounced.
I thought she should not have been texting while working when I had asked her not to. She agreed and apologized.
But she never could figure out why I didn’t want her to do it. I had told her customers might find it rude. She thought she had solved that problem by making sure her texting was unknown to the customer.
And she was right. The customer had no idea. I had seen it and I still didn’t believe it. How did she learn to do that? I could train like it was an Olympic sport and I would never be able to text on a flip phone without looking at it while having a completely separate conversation.
It really is like human brains are wired differently in the post-1980 models. And it’s getting worse. Her 3-year-old son is on level 63 of Candy Crush Soda and he can’t even read yet. It took me three weeks to get out of level 18 and I’m still working on 20.
It’s very endearing how he brings his tablet to me for help when he gets to a challenging section. Poor boy has no idea. So I plod along very methodically lining up three in a row or four squares and he’ll reach his little hand in under mine and start making what appear to me random moves and suddenly lights flash, all hell breaks loose and somehow, we’ve won.
As a digital immigrant, I like being in control and understanding what is happening. As a second generation digital native, he’s all instinct and intuition. Couldn’t care less he has no plan. Of course, he’s only 3. Sometimes, he doesn’t have a plan for not pooping his pants.
There is something very comforting in the way it takes both of our skill sets to pass the hard levels. Neither of us has a clue what the other is doing, but it’s only by working together that we can win.
There’s a lesson there. And it’s a hard one.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.