When I was young, people were talking about the generation gap. Today, we’re talking about the technology gap. Allow me to share a little story from a few years ago. My husband and I were on a trip to visit our niece in Southern California, and at the time we did not yet have smart phones. A few miles away from her apartment, we called to explain that we had her address, but could use some directions getting there. Sounding slightly puzzled, she replied “Just plug it into your phone.” We explained that we weren’t able to do that, but she seemed thoroughly confused. Having not lived at her new place very long, she didn’t know street names and wasn’t really able to help us. We hung up after a few minutes of unsuccessful conversation, then managed to find her location and pull up a few minutes later. As we were grabbing suitcases out of our car, she appeared outside her apartment on the opposite side of the street. Expecting her to run over and hug us, we were amused when our first encounter was slightly different. With arms lifted in questioning gesture and a look of incredulousness on her face, she shouted over to us, “What do you mean you don’t have GPS!?”
I’ve had a dear friend at work for a few years now, someone quite younger than me. I call her my little Millennial and she probably thinks of me as her little Boomer. For a time, we sat near each other and I was always intrigued to watch the way she approached her work, the things she said, and her life in general. We were clearly raised in two different generations. I had a mountain of paperwork at my desk.. client files, binders, printed reference materials, etc. Her desk, however, was usually free of paper. She seemed completely at home working with electronic images of documents that clients had submitted, rather than the hardcopies themselves. Reference materials needed for her work? They were in digital form on her computer. When she and I talked about some of the ways that we worked differently, she would say, “I don’t know what to do with paper.” Then looking quizzical, she would ask rhetorically, “What do you do with it?” These kinds of conversations got me thinking that not only did we do a lot of things differently, but our minds actually seemed to process information differently. Ultimately, I was led to the development of my own personal theory.
Now I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve seen or been a part of a lot of “us and them” moments over the last couple of decades. We older folks can manage technology when we need to, but what generally takes us more effort to get down pat (and of course there are always exceptions to the rule), the younger people seem to almost absorb through their pores. No instructions needed! Now here’s my theory and I’ll use my co-worker friend and myself as an example. She grew up with many of her daily tasks and activities being in the cyber world. I grew up with my daily tasks and activities being in the physical world. So, when I’m trying to learn or understand a process that is purely digital, in my mind’s eye I’m attempting to visualize and attach physicality to it. My brain is attempting to conceptualize it this way. But - could this be slowing me down? Am I jumping through unnecessary mental hoops?
I believe that my idea is similar to what happens when we’re learning a new language. Let’s take German, for example. Someone says to you, “Möchten Sie etwas Butter mit Ihrem Brot?” Understanding what they’ve said but not yet being quite fluent, you change it to English in your head: Would you like some butter with your bread? Composing your reply in English, you then change it back to German and verbalize to them, “Ja, bitte, das schön wäre.” (Yes, thank you, that would be lovely.)
So, what do you think.? am I on to something here?
My youngest daughter is a Millennial (and proud of it!) “What’s funny about your generation, Mom..” she will say to me, “is that you guys want to know, or you want to figure out, how something (digital) works. In my generation, we don’t care how it works. We don’t need to understand it. We just know it does!” She also observes with amusement that when someone older is giving an address to someone younger, we are determined to explain to them how to drive there. Meanwhile they’re plugging it into their GPS, and probably ignoring us!
My, aren’t we different. I would never assume to know all the reasons for the intriguing dance that occurs between us, them and technology. The ideas shared here are just some food for thought. But I can’t help but wonder if someday in the future, when hairs have turned grey on the heads of Millennials, will their grandchildren be trying to teach them the newest invention? Only time will tell.
Cindy works as an employment development counselor, and is a mother and grandmother. She has lived in Sonoma County for 28 years.