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Ageing, Technology

January 11, 2012

At work I encounter people who have little to no grasp of technology on a daily basis. This is to be expected. What’s interesting is which metaphors people know and which they don’t. Everyone knows “icon”, “button”, “menu” and so forth. “Start menu” has started to fade from their understanding, now that it doesn’t actually say “Start” on it. You learn not to say “window”; you say “box” about everything (it sounds slightly more reasonable in Swedish). I’ve even learned never to say “at the bottom right corner of your screen, by the clock”, since people can’t grasp the concept of a digital clock.

“Screen”, by the way, is the most baffling/infuriating metaphor of them all. People never, ever understand that the screen is not the active window. If you say “computer screen” the chances improve marginally. I just don’t get it. A screen is a big piece of hardware. How can you not know what it is?

Mac users are funny too. They never know that the menus for the currently active window are always at the top of their screen. They can hardly ever find files on their hard drive. They often don’t know what their file browser is called or that it exists and how to use it. After a few weeks of supporting people with Macs I already had more know-how than the rabid fanboys calling in.

Linux users were horrible at first but now it’s alright. They’re either powerusers or old people who either believe the hype with fervor but without knowledge, or old people whose grandchildren forced Linux upon them after getting tired of ridding their steam-powered Babbage engines of toolbars and malware.

What is the most curious though is the difference between young tech-illiterates and old ones. Even if the young ones have computer knowledge edging towards the negative, they can more often than not see what’s important on a web page; they can discern that buttons and links are where it’s at. Not so with old people. To them every web page is a jumble of colours and shapes. Nothing stands out to them. They have to read every single thing – but only if you’re talking to them.

It got me dreading my ageing. Will I be one of those people hopelessly out of touch with technology, grumbling that in my day, we used the internet and computers like normal people, not this new-fangled neuro-implant-copied-subset-personalities business you kids are using? (Yeah, I kind of forgot that sentence was originally a question too.)

This my fear of slipping in understanding is not shared by anyone at my work. They’re all very convinced that we will never turn out like that since we have grown up with technology. I’m not so sure. I keep coming back to something my father sometimes tells me (he’s a father; he repeats all his stories) that when he was young he had to help his grandmother make long-distance calls, in eerie analogue of how we help our elders now.

When we sit at the retirement home, having LAN parties instead of bridge nights, the orderlies will no doubt roll their eyes and without words say old people, eh? to each other.

It’s thoughts like these that have made me more afraid of ageing than anything before. Even though I understood on an intellectual plane that I would decrepit and die and my mind along with me, I never really knew it. The worst part is that I will probably become like the old people who infuriate me now; thinking I’m still “clear-minded” and “spry” and “alert”, while being gaga and confused. Nothing’s more horrible than thinking you’re sharp while people around you play along out of pity.

Since I’m too lazy to do anything about it, it’s just another scrap on the mounting heap of angst.

I’m a hoarder of sorts.

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