Growing Pains

Having worked for tech and internet start-ups for the past four years, one thing I’ve realized is that developments happen much faster than they did before the digital age. If you’re a company, this means that you’ve got to build a strategy that is flexible enough to adapt to changes, and proactive enough so that you’re ahead of the curve.

As a regular everyday person, this also means that you need to prepare yourself to get a text message from your mother that reads “omg” much sooner than you thought could be possible. My aunt, who once asked me to trade BlackBerry cases with her because she thought mine was “hipper” insists that the phrase, “omg” has been around since the 70s, which I can’t confirm or deny because I wasn’t born yet.

One thing I can confirm is that watching people adapt to technology is a fascinating experience, particularly because each channel of communication has its own language. I’ve heard countless stories of people who started IMing with their parents and would laugh because IMs always got signed, “Ok, I’m going to bed now, Good luck tomorrow, Love, Dad.”

There’s something really beautiful about these liminal communication phases; they serve to highlight the very best of each medium. They mark, too, the tremendous steps we’re taking technologically everyday. I particularly loved this moment that occurred when video-chatting with my mother for the first time.

When I was in NY, I downloaded it for her and we sat at the dining room table “practicing.” (“Mom, since I’m sitting right here, I’m going to hang up now. Don’t worry–you’ll still be able to see my face.”) Now that I’m back in SF, we tried the real thing for the first time.

Here’s how it started:

“Mom,” I said. “We’re on video chat…you don’t have to type anymore…you know, because, we’re speaking.”

“I know..but you’re volume was low, oh, well, nevermind I get it now. I just wanted to type it!”

Why exactly this makes my heart swell, I’m not sure. Maybe because as human beings, we want to record historical moments. If the historical moment is the inception of a new mode of communicaton — do we talk about in our new language, or our old one?

There are going to be a lot of hybrids between new and old as the world grows more and more digital. The burden is on us to draw meaning, rather than confusion, from the ambiguity.

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4 thoughts on “Growing Pains

  1. my mama still uses the SAME document I created for her the first time she got her computer…she just adds a page to it, and writes her new letter or memo or whatever and then prints JUST that page 🙂 She mainly wanted the computer so she could play Diner Dash, though…..and how funny is this, but hte confirm word is “computch” – is that like some kind of insult to a computer mensch?

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  2. Excellent post. I wish my mom had lived to see all this growth, but at least she got in on the beginnings of it. When she was so ill we bought her a WebTV (ever heard of those) and she was able to email family and make friends around the world. That was less than ten years ago and it seems like olden tymes!

    Then there is my younger sister who still isn't up to speed on computers and once in awhile writes to me thanking me for my “emailing.” 🙂

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  3. When I worked in a bank in the late 1980s, an older woman spent two hours each day using an adding machine and writing numbers on a piece of paper that she presented to me at day's end, showing that all the accounts we managed were in balance. I built a LOTUS 1-2-3 spreadsheet that enabled her to enter 5 numbers and type ALT P, which would cause the spreadsheet to enter all numbers in all slots, prove them out, and save and print the document, all in about 60 seconds. I showed her how to use it, and the next day, she handed the printed document to me. Along with the manually created, handwritten version as well. It took me a week to convince her she could trust the computer generated document and stop doing it manually as well.

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