OPINION COLUMNS

We can thank technology for generation gap

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, February 8, 2012

“Momma, did typewriters have just one font?”

My 8-year-old was pecking at the keys of an old typewriter in our living room. It sits on the end table as decoration.

I couldn’t help but laugh as I confirmed his suspicion.

“Yes. Just one.”

Kristen Tribe

Kristen Tribe

I didn’t bother explaining that the term “font” wasn’t even used until the 1980s, well after the retirement of the antique machine with which he constantly fiddles.

I actually took a typing class in high school – on a typewriter. Friends just a few years younger took “keyboarding” on, you guessed it, a computer keyboard.

I’m only in my late 30s, but my youth seems more distant than ever before. Now that both kids are in school and beginning to experience the world separate and apart from me, I’m beginning to realize there are things from my childhood that they will never experience, like the click clack of a typewriter.

Last week we checked out books at the public library, and I realized they will never know the tactile joy of signing their name to a checkout card. The yellowed cards often told their own stories with lists of names from years gone by, sometimes even decades.

It was always interesting to see who had read the book before you, and the librarian’s stamp of authority made the transaction seem “official” and almost grown up.

Over the weekend we bought and downloaded an e-book for my son. Although I’ve had an e-reader for more than a year, it will be the first book that he’s read entirely on the iPad, and as I watched him settle in with it, I was in awe of just how much things have changed.

He and his little sister will never open or have the need for a traditional set of encyclopedias. My parents were proud to purchase the “Encyclopedia Britannica.” I think in those days it even came with a set of “Childcraft books – The How and Why Library.”

These were primary research tools for elementary reports and school work before Google. The books were a window to the world. Plus, it gave me some great material when I forced my sister to play school. I was always the teacher.

Our kids will never use a corded phone. My youngest was asked as a toddler to identify a picture of one, and she couldn’t do it. She had never seen one and didn’t know what it was. It was not a picture of a cell phone or cordless phone, and therefore, did not register with her as a “telephone.”

I don’t think they’ve ever even seen a pay phone and probably never will. At some as-yet-undetermined age, they’ll get a cell phone, which will likely be on their person from that day forward. They’ll never need a quarter.

They will never understand the dread of walking across the room to change the TV channel, and they’ll never have to wait until Saturday to watch more than two or three cartoons. Our satellite beams several kid networks into our home 24 hours a day, so they’re available, even if not always allowed.

My son has recently started taking photos, and he will never know the anticipation of picking up “developed pictures.” Nor will he have the opportunity, unless he seeks it, to watch an image magically appear on paper in a dark room.

Our kids will never write notes to each other in class when they can text, and they’ll never have the back of their legs burned on a metal slide. Playgrounds are now plastic.

Road trips aren’t even the same. My two will never be bored in a car. A road trip means the vehicle is packed with books, iPods, DVDs and DSi’s, not to mention a myriad of odd toys. When I was a kid there were three options: sleeping, reading or daydreaming. Eventually I had a Walkman, but you could only listen to three cassettes so many times.

I know every generation must feel the vast difference in day-to-day life between their childhood and that of their kids, but today it seems that there are more drastic differences that have occurred in a shorter amount of time.

Maybe my grandmothers would disagree.

Perhaps as I watch my kids experience life, I’m nostalgic for my childhood and want to give them something similar. Maybe technology has so permeated our daily routine that its vast leaps have caused a rush of changes unlike those in decades past.

Or perhaps it’s me feeling the oncoming rush of a mysterious and bright future and realizing what is relevant to me won’t always resound with my kids.

Like the click clack of a typewriter or even use of a “land-line” phone.

And if there was ever any doubt about the generational difference between me and my children, my son drives it home best when he starts stories with “Back in the ’80s …”

I constantly remind him it wasn’t that long ago.

Email Kristen at ktribe@wcmessenger.com. Follow her on Twitter @WCMtribe.

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