Apparently old dogs really can learn new tricks … at least, when their daughters take over the training.
After years of vehement denial, Russ has acquired a smartphone. It’s a day I never saw coming. The man has not merely resisted change: He has railed against it since his first sight of the iPhone nearly a decade ago. He continued to preach about how they were destroying human communication … right up until Patti took him by the hand and led him into the Sprint store.
Said our favorite sales rep, Rezza: “I knew we’d hook you someday.” Patti just smiled.
Rezza is the same man who, a couple of years back, had to special-order a classic flip phone to replace the one my husband dropped into a freshly dug grave just as the casket was being lowered. (Yes, this really happened.)
He questioned us closely as he filled out the requisition for the atavistic model Russ demanded: “Are you sure? Are you really sure you’re sure?” Russ assured him that he was really sure that he was really, really sure about this. My old curmudgeon loathed the very idea of those teenybopper status symbols. He wanted, he proclaimed, a “real phone.”
All it took was two more years of our kids failing to pick up, then ignoring his voicemail messages … years of tempting him to watch funny cat videos on my own smartphone … years of perfecting his lecture on how texting was ruining the art of actual conversation …
… and here he was, stepping over the digital divide into the 21st century. And only a generation late.
Our vital statistics tell the story. Russ and I are in the age group that not only “dials” and “hangs up” the phone but still uses telephone directories. The Pew Research Center’s most recent data note that smartphone usage ranges from 85 percent among the 18-to-29-year-olds, who scarcely remember a day unplugged from the Web, to just 27 percent of those older than 65, who grew up with black rotary telephones with long spiral tails mounted on the kitchen wall.
Pew subdivides our cohort into two groups — one with “relatively substantial technology assets,” the other “largely disconnected from the world of digital tools and services, both physically and psychologically.” We definitely fall into the first; we’ve used computers since 1981 and digital photo technology since 1998.
But the primary reason that the iPhones and Androids seem to have seized younger imaginations — 24/7 access to the Web and the unbounded information it purveys — seems much less compelling to us. Many of us spend our days within arm’s reach of a “real” computer with a nice, big monitor, a cozy mouse and a cat or two who insist on curling up on the keyboard. We cotton to our tablets and Kindles, too, with screens that don’t have to be set to “old person” to be read.
Compared with Russ’ faithful (now departed) flip phone, trusting that a 3-by-5-inch slab of computer gadgetry will have all the answers doesn’t necessarily represent an upgrade. As he’s long told me, it’s actually a step down … and it doesn’t fit as well in his pocket.
What about being temporarily unplugged from the Internet “hive mind,” as antique phone users must be? Russ contends that isn’t problematic. Not only that. It’s a big part of why he loved his “dumb phone.” Like most of our generation, he prefers — how shall I say this? — to actually know stuff himself.
What finally forced the old coot to change, then? Those dadblasted whippersnappers! He’s yielded the ever-lonelier high ground because our younger friends — and this includes members of our family — are losing the ability to use a telephone-type telephone. If we want to keep in touch, we have to improvise.
Have you noticed this, too? While telemarketers and robocalls were busy ruining the utility of our good old land-locked phone lines, our own kids were switching to fingers from vocal cords. It’s no surprise. They grew up communicating with friends after school on America Online and Instant Messenger, then easily slipped into texting. They built their teen identities on MySpace, flourished on Facebook and now have moved on to ever-odder hubs like Yik Yak.
The Web has always been their Encyclopedia Brittanica — and Google their guide … the reason, incidentally, why younger adults now have such trouble with alphabetical order and consider maps a mystery.
Change is good. That’s fine. To each, his or her own. But when a technology stands between people, rather than bringing them together, Russ does make a persuasive point. When we eat out, we talk about young couples around us who dine alone, together. No eye contact. No conversation. Both are mesmerized by smartphones. For their sake, at least, we hope they’re texting each other.
Collisions are on the rise. Crossing the MSUM campus, a majority of students — and teachers — navigate heads down, focused solely on their phones. It’s fun to startle them with a cheery “hello” just to see them jump. I’m amazed more don’t stumble into the traffic, where they’d be easy prey for equally distracted drivers who are, themselves, texting behind the wheel.
Meanwhile, though, Russ is flourishing under our daughter’s tutelage. He’s thoughtfully selected unique ring tones for everyone who’s ever likely to call him — then promptly forgotten who is who. He’s spent a whole weekend searching for people to “friend.” He’s tapped out 1,000-word text messages and pounced on the cats for pix to post. Next thing you know, he’ll ditch his Nikons for duck-face selfies.
I’m happy about his new hobby. Really, I am. He’s not likely to misplace this new phone as long as it never leaves his hand … and I’ve never been able to read his handwriting anyway.