Sunday, 9 January 2011

Tim versus Technology

It used to be an anecdote accepted as fact that the older the generation, the lower their affinity for technology. It certainly works in the other direction; my six year old cousin has become more adept at Call of Duty – the immensely popular video game – than I ever could, and I've been playing games religiously for the entirety of his young life! Yet he still runs circles around me.

Imagine my surprise then, when my girlfriend's mother arrived home with a new mobile phone. It was one of the new touch-screen, iPhone-clone models that are an affordable alternative to Steve Job's latest masterpiece. Now, I've been playing with my Galaxy for several months, getting used to its features and even writing a review of it, where I loftily praised its merits, dismissing its weak battery life as one of its rare failings.

So, I confidently took on the challenge of setting up my in-law's telephone. As in any new scenario, you search for landmarks, and having adjusted so well to my own mobile, I was immediately at sea. It seems like the manufacturers, so aware of the similarities between their progeny and the iFruit market overlord, have designed the systems within their phone to diverge so violently from each other so as to distinguish their individuality.

I mean, I classed it a small victory when I finally reached the text messaging screen. However, it was here my so-called 'superior technical knowledge' fell down; I take pride in never using the predictive text features, so when I was asked if I could turn it on, I wasn't even able to tell if it was turned off. The controls on my own telephone were so totally different, I could barely make sense of it.

That was just the beginning. Each question either led to me weakly explaining the theory behind a feature (whilst having no knowledge of how it was activated) or a simple “I don't know.” Then, she spotted the Bluetooth feature – which I'd introduced her to barely six days before – and promptly made a shortcut on her home screen. It took me a week to understand how to do that on my own mobile!

I have my own theory about how I was so wrong-footed. We're the generation that is the first to enjoy instant access, immediate downloads, prompt affinity with the technology we're inventing as we go along. Within seconds, you grasp the basic mechanics of operating a device, and via trial and error you quickly establish the methods to get the results.

My girlfriend's mother is of the generation preceding. For them, the most archaic of technology was accompanied by instruction manuals the size of a phone book. I used to play with an Amstrad 64K 'computer', and the BASIC programming book that came with it was thicker than most of my textbooks from school. That is a symbol of our developing technological awareness, that the children of my generation had increasingly reduced attention spans, which was paralleled by the reduction in size of technology, and the reduction in waiting time for results from your machine.

However, the split-second reactions of my age group (and even more so my six-year old assassin of a cousin) have, I believe, led us into an awareness cul-de-sac. My subconscious affinity with my mobile, netbook, PC, have been honed to a fine edge with that relevant device. Try and introduce those unconscious instincts to a new machine, a new procedure, and I must consciously make an effort to learn how to operate them. But I'm of the generation that doesn't consciously learn anything anymore! Contrast that with my mother-in-law, supposedly of a generation forgotten by technology, that has spent a lifetime studiously rehearsing achingly-complex instructions for computers that barely lasted a decade.

They've practised the skills they learnt that we thought were simply inherited, they can learn the procedures we thought we could gain by osmosis. The only restraint is the lack of confidence with new technology, instilled by the arrogant dictation of their supposedly more aware descendants.

Don't be guilty of technological discrimination; consider the abilities of everyone before buying in to the stereotype!

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