Sunday, January 02, 2005

Generation Gaps

For the past 20 years, my mother and father were "digital dinosaurs." They were perfectly content to watch video tapes, the History Channel and Animal Planet on their aged 27 inch television. When I say "aged" I mean a TV that does have any input other than a cable connection. No "Video 1", "Video 2," no surround sound, etc. Just a simple circa 1995 TV sans any and all bells and whistles. As an aside, I commented to my Dad when he bought the TV in the late 1990s that it seemed like an older model. His comment was "It’s new and it was on sale!" He seemed very proud of the "it was on sale" part.

I, on the other hand, enjoyed big-screen TV with multiple video and audio inputs. When I would tell my parents about the latest developments in home entertainment, their eyes would sort of glaze over and they would nod politely and ask me if I could copy the new DVDs onto their familiar, comfortable VHS tape format. They were disappointed that I could no longer share videos I buy with them to watch. I couldn’t connect a DVD player to their archaic TV due to their single cable input. The situation cried out for final solution.

For Father Day in 2004, I bought my Dad (and my Mom, really) a brand new TV with built-in DVD and VCR players. They were very happy with the gift but I saw in their eyes the bigger issue in their mind: how will we ever learn how to use this complicated bit of digital machinery? To make a long story short, with a little handholding and supervision, my wonderful parents are now enjoying digital video technology with aplomb.

Christmas also brought a little high-tech (remember, it's all relative here) mystery into their lives when I bought them a dual-handset cordless phone setup for their home. While I understood completely their need to have me make all the connections and set the units up, I did smile to myself at my Dad’s first question. I hooked up the base unit and put the satellite unit down in their den, no where near a RJ11 connector or a telephone line. After testing the system calling from my (you didn't think they had one, did you?) cell phone, my Dad asked, quite straight-faced, "How does the set not connected with the phone line know to ring when a call comes in?" Rather than confuse him any more than he already was, I simply said "Dad, it’s magic." He seemed content with that explanation.

I spent the rest of Christmas morning performing a little more "magic" on my parent’s atomic clock (also, a previous son-to-parent gift) which was, in my Dad’s best techno-speak, "not working any more." After replacing the battery and reestablishing its "magic" my Dad seemed proud to tell me, for at least the 33rd time, "Do you know that clock gets set by a radio signal somewhere in Colorado?" I gave my best "Wow!" look and replied, "Really? That’s amazing isn’t it?" My final task for the morning was to adjust the bass and tenor of the sound system of their new TV. While my folks know where the "Power" and "Play" buttons are on their admittedly busy remote control, those pesky menu items are still a little confusing.

When all the technological repairs and adjustments were complete, my Dad humbly apologized for all the "trouble" of these trivial little tasks on Christmas morning. I am glad he did because it allowed my to tell him something I had been thinking about for some time. What I said, certainly paraphrased here, went something like this:

"Dad, I know this sort of thing seems easy for me and it is. This is the sort of stuff I grew up using. I had a computer way back in 1979 and have been using them ever since. I bought a VCR back when they cost over $300 and a DVD player when they were almost the same price. [As an aside, I am what is known in consumer marketing as an "early adopter" of new technology. A gadget geek would be a more apt description.] It really is easy for me. But, Dad, if you put me out in your workshop with a stack of your wood and all your tools and asked me to build a birdhouse or, worse, a dog house, I would feel just like you do with a remote control. I would be lost and feel completely overwhelmed."

I continued, "Dad, your generation grew up to fight World War II and came home to build this country with the sweat of your brow and by working with your hands. You know things that I will never know: The hunger of a depression, the horror of a World War, and spent most of your life building all the things people my age and my children's age take, so often, for granted. Just because you need a little help with new stuff, it doesn’t lessen anything you and your generation have accomplished and made possible for me and those that follow. You can still do stuff I couldn’t do if I tried."

My Dad smiled and seemed more than a little pleased. He seemed a little more proud and appeared to make an effort to sit a little straighter in his chair. He didn’t say anything, as is his custom, and quickly turned to finishing with the usual Christmas morning activities. I was probably more pleased than he to have said what I have known was true for some time. My generation may be more "technologically savvy" than our parents but I am quite sure we aren’t nearly as wise as they are. We may have more knowledge but I am equally sure we don’t have nearly as much wisdom. Their wisdom was forged in a completely different furnace - the furnace of hard times.

His generation, specifically those born in the 1910s and 20s, made this country great. They are the ones that built the infrastructure that we drive over and communicate over today. They built the great dams that provide electricity and had the wisdom to protect our great wildernesses and natural wonders. They faced the biggest crises in our history and brought our nation through them, better and stronger than before. As Tom Brokaw describes them, they are truly "the greatest generation."

So, the next time you have to do something for your parents that gives you a fleeting feeling of superiority, just remember: each generation gives something to those that follow them. I am completely sure my generation (i.e. those born after 1950) will come nowhere near contributing what my parents’ generation gave to our country. I am sadly sure that the generation behind mine will have contributed even less.

As for my wonderful parents, I look forward in 2005 to introducing them to some more "new" technology. Maybe a cell phone or, in a monumental leap forward, a computer. I may have to sedate Dad for that one. But teaching them something new will, in some small way, show them how much I appreciate what they have done for me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it is wonderful what you did for your parents. I agree with you that we do not know what they went through and our generation is truly blessed to live in the country that they made possible.

Hats off to you for writing this one!

7:11 AM  
Blogger rhonda5248 said...

since i cant email i thought i would take a different route.i the digital dinosaur myself along with my lettuce eating cat and my dog, which you my dear dad are familiar with, whom right now is sleeping in the cat bed you gave me. i ask myself where did i go wrong?its almost 11pm and you will be calling me in about 7 1/2 hours so good night or good morning

8:48 PM  

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