Recently I enjoyed dinner with my co-worker and friend, “TJ,” at an outdoor venue. Both working from home now, it had been awhile since we’d seen each other, and we were anxious to reconnect. TJ is a millennial, and our coming from different generations has made for some interesting dialog in the past. This evening, the conversation soon took its familiar course and we found ourselves engaged in one of our favorite activities - discussing how our respective generations do things differently. On that note, tonight’s topic was “getting from point A to point B,” and the various ways one might access the directions to do that.
For TJ and her contemporaries, there really is no discussion. Plug the address into your phone; done. Of course, it was incumbent upon me to point out that there was a time before GPS existed, leaving my contemporaries and I to utilize other resources. “Oh yeah!” TJ replied. “Back then, people would have to look directions up in MapQuest, and then print them out.”
I tried hard not to laugh.
I began my reply, “That’s not exactly the first way…” but she caught herself and said, “Oh right. they would use those paper things... maps!” Then with a curious look on her face she added, “Those are just… freakish.”
Ok, now it was time to bring in some boomer perspective. “Freakish?” I defended, “That’s all we used to have! And they’re actually kind of cool...” I paused and then offered resolutely, “In fact, I sometimes still use them.”
She lowered her fork and looked at me as though I were from Mars. I had a plan, though. Inside I thought, after dinner, I’ll help her see things a new way.
As we were saying our good-byes and walking toward the parking area, I said, “Hey TJ, come over to my car for a second. I want to show you something.” “Ok,” she said unsuspectingly, and followed me over. Once there, I opened my glove compartment and pulled out none other than a genuine California map. “What!” she practically shrieked. “Why do you even have that? What good can this possibly do you?” Despite her protests, she seemed somewhat curious in this object. And as for me, I was intent on convincing her that no one could live without at least one paper map in their life.
I unfurled my giant map, revealing the entire state of California from Yreka to El Cajon. I said enthusiastically, “See how big it is! You get so much better visualization this way.” She pulled out her phone and started scrolling her map around, saying, “But I can do the same thing right here on this.” Hmm… she was being a tough sell. “But this gives you context,” I countered. “You can see not just where you are, but everything around you.” “Same,” she replied, as she demonstrated on her phone. But I was not ready to give up yet. “Ok,” I said, “Let me explain it to you this way. Suppose that you’re on a road trip, but you’re not sure where you want to go. You’re just on a driving adventure and you look at your map and you’re like, ‘Oh look at all the possibilities! I could go here!’ (I pointed to Sacramento). ‘Or I could go there!’ (I pointed to Death Valley). I could tell from her face that she wasn’t buying it.
After considering my little presentation thoughtfully, she made a statement: “Our brains just process information differently.” Yes, yes, I knew she was right. In fact, I wrote about this very idea in an earlier column (see Us and Them – the technology gap).
No doubt about it. Because of the world I grew up in, my brain processes information and sees many things differently than that of TJ and others of her generation. And something else about my brain... there are memories from my world stored away and sometimes long forgotten, until they pop out unexpectedly. This happened just the other day.
I was looking through a collection of record albums that had recently been gifted to me by my sister. Flipping through them one by one, I spied Neil Young’s Harvest LP, and picked it up for closer examination. Something told me to take the record from its cover. As I did, my eyes fell on a familiar orange Reprise label, with a tiny steamboat at the top. I didn’t even realize until this moment that I remembered this record well. Soon the memory came rushing in - back to the summer of 1972. Back to the living room of my childhood and my sister who was home from college. She’d brought this record with her and played it almost every day that summer.
The set of memories that reside in my brain are uniquely mine, but are representative of the generation I grew up in. Surely you have your own, too. Please join me next time when we’ll talk about our storehouse of memories that have made us who we are.