It’s probably just a
standard generational thing, i.e. cultural and/or scientific
advances making elders uncomfortable. I recall an old family tale
about visiting relatives, staying at a modern motel, lighting the
gas lamp thinking it was an oil lamp. Part of the family tree, gone!
For our parents, the
uncomfortable time was probably the ‘60s, which made perfect sense
to me but, as I look back, did seem to disorient the Greatest
Generation. Yet I can’t imagine anyone being more disconcerted than
I was last week listening to a “talk radio” discussion among parents
about trying to handle/control their children’s use of electronic
They shared advice on
setting rules and limits, with some children seeming to be addicted
to their smartphones and social media. Understood: My generation was
on the phone with its friends, after school, in the evening, as
parents complained. (See the 1961 Broadway musical, “Bye Bye
Birdie.”) Then a father called in with this story:
He was just divorced and
knowing it had been hard on his children, he took them to Disneyland
for Christmas. The younger boy seemed to enjoy himself, but his
teenage daughter spent much of the vacation on her device: while
waiting in line for rides, at dinner instead of sharing the day’s
Nothing you say can make
me understand this. When I was a teenager, I dreamed of going to
Disneyland, in California, a country away from Pennsylvania. Didn’t
mention it because I knew my family couldn’t afford that kind of
vacation. A friend who did go there said it was just like a large
carnival, nothing special, kind of dusty (probably an early version
of some kind of ‘50s “global warming” causing drought conditions
like those California is experiencing now).
This brush-off made me
feel better for years, until I actually visited the Magic Kingdom
and realized that there are people who can’t see the magic anywhere
and will always be unimpressed by it. Same type visited Paris and
said the natives were unfriendly; visited Venice and told me it
smelled bad. That’s it? That’s all you noticed about two of the
great cities of the world? (My later experience was friendly
Parisians and no unusual Venetian scents.)
So there we were, in 1968,
a Navy family based in Long Beach, with military discount tickets to
Disneyland. My 4-year-old son enjoyed it enormously, but not as much
as I did. Large carnival? Only in the sense that the Pacific Ocean
is a large pond. Maybe by then the dust had been paved over, or it
was the southern California rainy season, but I remember Disneyland
as one of the cleanest, best-maintained places I’ve ever been.
Standing in line was
itself great fun; the lines were set up in lanes so they don’t seem
too long, as you talked with the other excited tourists waiting on
both sides of you. Your children talked with the other children
about plans for more rides after this one. In my wildest nightmares
I can’t imagine chatting on the phone or texting someone who wasn’t
there while waiting, otherwise bored, to visit Adventure Land or
worse, playing video games or whatever is on those devices.
OK, small time-out here to
appreciate my grandchildren texting me as they travel and my son
preparing a smartphone video for my grandson’s ski-team run at Tahoe
or my granddaughter’s speech in the school play; that’s different.
Years later, visiting
Disney World with a pilot friend who met me there, I was just as
excited, not about Cinderella’s castle, but the chance to visit
other countries and see exciting scientific advances at Epcot. Every
moment carried the thrill of awareness of the Disney Magic.
What if all the memories
of my life were of talking to someone on the phone and time spent on
an electronic device?
On the other hand, I
imagine being handicapped or never able to afford a trip to one of
the Disney sites, Paris or Venice: the new virtual realities give
everyone a chance to travel. This is wonderful. But it’s not the
point of the father talking about his Christmas trip on the radio.
Advice included taking the device away from the addicted child for
much of the day. “Who paid for it?” someone asked.
I think that might work if
the parent is paying for the operating minutes. Yet, even from the
‘50s, we can recall a child having a tantrum at the carnival if he
doesn’t get his way about something. Not pretty.
Well, that’s all I can
really discuss about modern technology, since I’ve avoided learning
its language, shame on me. I do Facebook but just the elemental
postings; have more than 1,000 friends and hundreds of friend
requests that I don’t have time to check out, so anyone can visit
for political discussion.
Here’s where it gets
embarrassing. In last week’s column, I reached out to my
congressman, Seth Moulton, with a heads-up on something I’d just
learned about the Veterans Administration not funding in-vitro
fertilization for injured warriors. The day after it appeared, a
Salem News reporter called me to say that Seth Moulton had tweeted
me that he got the message and had just signed on to a bill funding
I got a tweet? From my
congressman? Now what?
Somewhere around here is a
copy of “Tweeting for Dummies” that I’ve avoided reading. Never
mind. If Congressman Moulton is reading this column: Thank you.
New technology. Devices.
Good, as long as not overdone, becoming addictive. I admit I’ve
spent a lot of real time on earth with other kinds of escapism,
reading novels and watching television. Appreciate being able to do
research for my column using Google, love texting my family. New
Year’s resolution: Learn to tweet.
Barbara Anderson of
Marblehead is a weekly columnist for the Salem News and
Eagle-Tribune Publishing Company.