Friday, October 19, 2012

Staying in touch in a brave new world

"What are you doing?"
She was hunched over, looking intently at something, but from my angle behind her, I couldn't tell just what it was.
Like many of us who have joined a certain illustrious age group, she wears store-bought readers for close work.  Closer inspection reveals that hers are approximately the same magnification level as the Hubble Space Telescope, though much cuter, in my opinion. When perched on the end of her nose, they give her a decidedly grandma-ish look, despite her otherwise perky appearance and demeanor.
That day, It almost looked like she was darning a sock or tatting lace, the kind of detailed jobs more closely associated with grandmas from days gone by. I was, of course, intrigued.
"Really," I persevered. "What are you doing?"
She glanced my way, then back at the object of her interest.
While she is, most definitely, no old-fashioned fuddy-duddy, this was news. Up until that pivotal point in time, sending text messages on a cell phone was one of those things we considered mildly out of whack with a younger generation who would rather text "I'm here" than simply knock on the door.
"When did you start doing that?" I asked in a somewhat querulous tone. "I thought you thought..."
"All my teacher friends are doing it," she interjected. "They have daughters."
Ahhh, daughters.
As far as I can tell, the biggest difference between girl-kids and boy-kids is that the former group occasionally chooses to actually communicate with their parents, while sons, like the two we raised, generally prefer to remain mute except in cases regarding anticipated pizza delivery and upcoming Bears-Packers football games.
My older son, for instance, placed his phone in a drawer several years ago, as far as I can tell, only taking it out to occasionally make calls, but never to receive them. Meanwhile, our younger son, who, as a high school teacher, is constantly subjected to unrelenting coolness-checks by his students, beats them to the punch by displaying his battered relic of a cell phone, claiming that its one of those new retro flip phones they've all been hearing about. I've held onto certain old-fashioned reservations about the whole cell phone thing, thinking that there are plenty of times I'd just as soon not be reached. But after a recent four-week hiatus from home, a check of our landline voicemail revealed twenty messages, but only two from actual people, with the other eighteen consumed by window and siding sales messages and political polls.
And now, thanks to her former co-workers and those proactive daughters of theirs, my sensible spouse was relentlessly hunting-and-pecking away, anxiously awaiting the cheery "ding-dong" her phone emits every time she receives a message.
It's a sign of the times.
Back in the day, when I was a teenager and dinosaurs walked the earth, adults rarely bothered to adopt the modes of communications we used, preferring to wait for us to simply grow up instead. According to my wife, her dad acted like he was being asked to install a small nuclear reactor in her bedroom rather than the blue Princess phone she pined for and ultimately, grudgingly got. And woe be it to the young swain who honked from the driveway rather than presenting himself at his date's front door for a full inspection by her anxious mother and glowering dad.
Nowadays, new technology seems like the only way to keep up with what's going on in the lives of our kids and grandkids. And keep up is what we want--and need--to do.
Or at least, most of the time.
Along with text messaging, social networking websites like Facebook are a prime example of the ways we attempt to sneakily delve into the alternate universe our children inhabit.
"it's the only way I see pictures of my grandchildren," noted one loving grandma.
"I just love keeping track of what our kids are doing," said another.
On a somewhat more cynical note, I know one dad who uses it to keep tabs on the investment he's made in his daughter's college education, thinking that watching for incriminating photos of keggers and tales of skipped lectures is cheaper and easier than fitting her with one of those ankle bracelets they use for someone being held under house arrest.
But in any case, it's kind of fun to see what's going on with our kids and four grandchildren, even if its via cyberspace. And text messages are better than no word at all, I guess.
But for me, I'll take a hug around the neck, anytime.

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