Text to son: “Computer crashed. Help, pls!” I knew Jake was at work but this was an emergency. My computer had frozen, refusing to do one more thing until I closed some of the umpteen windows I’d opened. It’s my computer, right? Why can’t it jump around between multiple ideas and subjects? I do. Last time it froze Jake showed me a quick fix. Should’ve made a note of it.
He calls. “Mom, don’t panic. Turn the computer off. Select “restart.” The same windows will open. Close some! You can click “History” on your browser to find them again. Trust me.”
“Okay, thanks, honey.”
“No problem. Have a great day.” What a prince.
Later that day, stumped again, I needed to edit a PDF. A case for my personal Help Desk, “staffed” by my daughter. “Please un-PDF this,” I wrote. In minutes, her email popped up. “Word doc attached. Talk tonight?”
I’m lucky. Friends tell me their children balk at requests for technical help from us, the generation that didn’t grow up playing video games before we could read; who remember pouring through encyclopedias for information or (gasp), going to the library. Now we ask Siri. Or Google, starting a not-so-merry chase to countless dead ends and close-but-no-cigar YouTube videos. No wonder we’d rather ask our children.
“My Roku died,” I texted my daughter. (Was she working, helping her son with homework, starting dinner? All of the above?) I was settling in to watch Broadchurch on Netflix (love those British mysteries). Couldn’t find anything on my 425 cable channels. Thus, the urgency. “I unplugged it and plugged it in again. No luck.” That’s the one trick I know. Before bothering her I’d wasted time Googling the problem, even “asking the community.” Crowd-sourcing didn’t exist when I was young, unless you count yelling out the window at dinnertime, “Has anyone seen Jenna?” Back to the balky Roku, my daughter replied, “On work call.”
Okay, I thought. I can do this. And I did! Feeling like a 5-year old, I texted: “Fixed it. All by myself.” Got back a thumbs up emoji.
I spent a lifetime without emojis. Now I use these little emotion-expressing shortcuts all the time. I remember getting news across the miles from Western Union. My grandchildren enjoy instant communication with friends and family, and keep followers updated on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. At any given moment, their “friends” know what they’re doing, where and with whom. While they’re snapping pics of what’s happening every instant are they ever actually in the moment, appreciating the scene before their eyes, savoring what they’re experiencing?
Beyond hearts and smiley faces, I’ve graduated to Bitmojis. My granddaughter created an avatar for me. Now I preview cartoon images of me saying “Wow!” “Sorry” or whatever, then copy, paste and express my sentiment wordlessly.
Then there’s the language gap. After exchanging emails and Facebook messages, a young woman I’d invited to lunch texted, “It’ll be nice to meet you IRT.”
“What’s IRT?” I texted Jake.
“In real time.” Oh. I get it. When most of your interpersonal interactions are virtual, you need an acronym for live, in-person encounters! I wondered, “Is there a dictionary of these vowel-free, text- and Twitter-friendly acronyms?” And realized, in a slap-my-forehead moment, “Dictionaries are for dinosaurs, Doofus. Google it!”
“Your computer has been infected, call this number immediately.” Jake had warned me: “NEVER click on those pop-ups.” When virus warnings make me freeze, he reminds me, “Click on the Apple logo; press ‘force quit.'” What a great thing to know. Why does he know that stuff but I – and most people my age – don’t? Well, that’s how it is. Here’s a message for anyone with parents who still have hotmail.com email addresses, or are “technologically challenged.” Listen. We helped you learn to walk! We taught you how to use the potty, share your toys, and defended you from assault and battery charges on the playground before you learned to “use your words.” When we ask for your help, hop to it.
I’m lucky. My offspring patiently talk me through technology-related traumas and teach me tricks so I can function in this wired new world. Here’s some advice for those of you who moan, groan and take your own sweet time to help your parents and grandparents navigate the device du jour or untangle some inscrutable mess that makes their computers crash and leaves them, despite their age-acquired wisdom, feeling flat-out stupid. Get over yourselves. When your parents ask for technical support, DROP EVERYTHING. Return the myriad of favors they’ve showered on you since Day 1, not begrudgingly but gladly. Be grateful they’re still around, rooting for you, cheering your triumphs, soothing your psyche. Repeat after me: “Sure, I’ll help. What’s the problem?” IT’S YOUR JOB.