A Middle-Aged Woman Laughs at (and Stews Over) Technology
By: Mary Fran Bontempo

Technology is astonishing.

The things you can do, the worlds you can discover, the endless possibilities.

Actually, that’s not exactly true. Technology is a wonder, affording endless opportunities, if you’re under the age of, say, thirty-five. Anywhere beyond that, and technology is more a giant pain in the…well, let’s just say that what’s truly amazing is that you don’t pull out all of your hair when trying to navigate the internet, cell phones, cable television—I could go on, but you get it.

This is not news. Anyone who hasn’t grown up in the age of the internet, cell phones, iPods, digital cameras and so on is occasionally, if not regularly flummoxed by how to operate any of the hardware, software and any other ware required to communicate, take a photo or even watch television these days.

We’re dinosaurs. Fine, I’ll admit it. But what I think I’ve finally figured out is why we’re dinosaurs. It’s the “Don’t Touch” syndrome.

This revelation came to me at a recent lunch meeting with two of my fellow bloggers–really smart, female friends with whom I’ve done a great deal of writing and teaching. We were lamenting the fact that every single thing we try to accomplish that in any way involves technology takes ten times as long as it should due to the learning curve. Carmen was noting that her teenage daughter had no such issue as even though she might not immediately know how to do something involving technology, she’s not afraid to play around and figure it out. And that’s when Chrysa nailed it.

“I think it’s because we were always told not to touch anything when we were kids,” she said.

Bingo. From the time I was able to understand the simplest language, life was replete with the warning “Don’t touch.” Don’t touch the television. Don’t touch the phone. Don’t touch the stereo. (Yes, I know no one says, “stereo” any more. I said I was a dinosaur.) Don’t touch anything with an electrical cord.

The penalty for touching? I don’t know exactly as I was one of those obedient children who listened to my mother. I didn’t touch. Of course, the implied penalty was maiming or possibly death, given the mystery surrounding the technology of the age. Whatever made those pictures come into our television had to have some powerful mojo to make it happen. I certainly wasn’t about to mess with it.

Little did I know that the residual effects of my obedience would be that when confronted with a computer glitch or problem, when trying to take pictures with my new, really cool camera (At least I think it’s cool; I don’t know how to use it), when attempting to figure out how to get that spectacularly irritating ring tone off my phone, more often than not, I just stare at the offending technology, because I’m afraid to touch anything for fear that it, and I, will blow up. Spontaneously combust (which has always been a weird fear of mine).

Our kids have no such fears. Whether this speaks to their general lack of temerity or the fact that they never listened to us when they were young and we told them “Don’t touch,” I have no idea. I only know that when faced with a technological problem, they dive right in, tapping away on a key board, blipping their way through a cell phone, or snapping away on my new camera, much to my horror.

The horror is why I try never to ask my kids for help with my technology issues. Their lack of fear exponentially increases mine. The moment their fingers reach towards my computer, I’m certain we’re all about to be incinerated, electrocuted and obliterated from the face of the earth. Plus, I’m sure they’re about to lose all of my work.

None of my fears is ever realized, of course, and I should be grateful that they even attempt to help me, considering that their tolerance for my stupidity is minimal. But frankly, I’m not grateful; I’m annoyed. Because while I spent most of my life being afraid to touch and probably missing out on who knows what, they aren’t afraid to touch anything, despite my best efforts to instill my irrational fear in them. And they rarely miss out—on anything.

Yikes. Maybe I’m not annoyed. Maybe I’m jealous. And much as I hate admitting it, maybe they’re the ones who have the right idea. Experiment, explore and mostly, don’t be afraid. A philosophy to live by and it came from my kids, unbeknownst to them.

So maybe I’ll touch. A little. Provided I have a fire extinguisher handy. Of course, I’ll still tell the kids not to touch, while secretly admiring their courage, something I’ll never admit. I’ll just pretend I know best, which is pretty much what I’ve been doing all along.

Have your own technology-induced nightmares?  Click “comments” below, in red, and share!