Technological changes can be magical, even at age 95

Last Sunday my son, Dave, who is a computer expert, was here and said, “I want to show you something.” And did he ever!

I had what was to me a magical experience. I spent about half an hour visiting with my granddaughter and her husband — in London. I could see their faces clearly on my 24-inch computer screen, their expressions, their laughter, their live presence. They could not see me because I did not have a camera, but they could hear me.

The computer software that makes this possible is called Skype. Probably everybody in America under 60, and most of those over that age, already know what it is. I didn’t.

Simply, it is a computer software system that allows people at their computers thousands of miles apart to have face to face conversations. And it is free.

Skype is not very old. It was founded in 2003 and already has 20 million users worldwide.

In my last column, I wrote about Santa’s magic. By the time we all understand worm holes, my magical experience will have become quite routine.

I don’t know whether my generation is the lucky one, or whether we have been seriously handicapped, living through the technological revolution.

The first time I heard music coming out of the air it was coming out of an oatmeal box. My dad and I were building our first radio. It was an oatmeal box, wound tightly with copper wire and operated with a needle on a crystal. Denver station KOA was playing saxophone music. That was magic to me at age 10.

Sunday, I chatted with Pamela in London and there was no oatmeal box involved. That was magic to me at 95.

That is technological advancement at a speed that is hard for my generation to absorb. That is the reason some of us say, “Give me the good old days,” and others are in the forefront of the change.

Skype, of course, is an infinitesimal piece of the spread of communication. But it is one more piece of knowledge for us to absorb fast. In the past, all kinds of change came slowly.

My favorite library story is about a Persian in the first century A.D. He traveled the desert, with 400 camels that bore his 117,000 volume library. And the camels were trained to walk in such a way that kept the books in alphabetical order.

The growth from that to the modern library, which has no camels, was over 2,000 years, which gave people time to adjust.

The cultural change that has accompanied the technological ones has tended to divide the generations.

Years ago, I went to Phoenix to visit my family. I took my Atari game to show to my grandson, who was then 4. Needless to say, he showed me how to improve my game. That was my first intergenerational lesson.

Now the young people (under 60) all have iPods and cell phones and the fancier iPhones and BlackBerries and other things that I had never even heard of until recent years. And they are tweeting and texting and blogging and posting on Facebook and talking via Skype.

Of course, many older people are expert in some or all of these things. I can use a computer, but am certainly not an expert. When I get in trouble, I yell for help. But I am quite familiar with one program that most younger people are probably not. It is called Zoom, and it can make the letters on the screen big enough that I can read them.

And that brings up the problems that we older people have with the technical revolution, with everything moving so fast. Most of us have some loss of hearing and seeing.  And many of us simply lack the energy or desire or health to learn all the new stuff that is filling our kids with enthusiasm. That means we are missing out on a lot of what is going on in the world.

In spite of the speed of what is going on around us, I hope we will try to keep up a little bit. Youth’s world is our world, too. And we still can be enchanted by magic.


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