Thursday 14 June 2012

Parents are not dinosaurs

Here is a fairly typical statement about parents' engagement with the 'new' technology their children use:

"Digi-phobic parents fearing that their swiping, oblivious kids will wind up in the late, great Ray Bradbury's lion-infested nursery, steering dangerous beasts through a landscape unnavigable by – and implacably hostile to – anyone over 18..."

The Guardian, June 2012

How old is a child reader? Anything between two (if we are thinking of something like Nosy Crow's Cinderella) to 16 (if we are thinking more of Celia Rees's This Is Not Forgiveness. How old is a parent, then? Anything from 18 to 50ish - bit more at a push, especially if a father. Or perhaps a bit younger if they weren't paying attention during those how-to-put-a-condom-on-a-cucumber lessons (or paying too much attention, and put it on the cucumber instead).

So what excuse does a person aged 18-50ish have for not being able to use an intuitive , user-friendly bit of everyday technology? We're not talking about building your own database/website/Flash animation here - I mean swiping a screen or clicking on a picture. If you can wipe a dead fly off a windowsill, you can drag a pig across an iPad screen.

My first computer
Yes, the children are 'digital natives' - they grew up with the technology. Actually, I'm a digital native, too. I was there at the start, using one of the very first personal computers in 1978, and haven't dropped behind. I'm not the only adult (and parent) in this position. So there are at least some old dinosaurs who weren't wiped out by the iComet.

More importantly, the parents of today's toddlers are in their 20s and 30s. They were born in the 80s and even 90s. My Big Bint is 21 this month. Some of the kids she was at school with have children starting school in September. Do you think those parents can't negotiate an iPad? Get real.

In the 80s, I was training teachers to use new technology in the classroom. They were obliged to do it. They had to teach kids how to use the BBC micro, which is 31 years old this year. Obviously the BBC micro is not the same as an iPad - if you swiped it, you just left a smear on the screen. But the first desktop computer appeared 28 years ago. (Or 29 if you were cool enough to use a Lisa). When did you first use the web? I used it in 1994 - 18 years ago, on Mosaic, which was released in 1993. That was early, but most people must have used it by 2000, surely? This stuff has been around for a long time. We must be running out of 'digi-phobic parents'. 

My really ancient v.1 iPad
The remaining digi-phobics are the older people (including journalists) who haven't noticed they are no longer the bright young parental generation being discussed. Surely there can't be many parents who don't have smart phones, Facebook, and the ability to book a Ryainair flight? At least, not those who can afford a broadband connection and an iPad and so are in a position to be out-techno'd by their kids.

There will always be some parents who aren't interested - who don't use YouTube or send texts because they don't want to. They are the equivalent of parents (like me) who never learned the rules of football or gave a toss about motorbikes because they find them unutterably dull topics.Now, surely, digi-phobic is just digi-averse, and is the same as being football-averse, or music-averse or fashion-averse - it's not a special state, just an expression of preference.

But perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe the world is thronged with parents who have had their eyes closed for the last ten years. Is it, really?


  1. I have a Macbook Air, iPad, iPhone and as of this pm, BT Infinity. Also on Twitter (4 accounts) Facebook (4 pages) and have 3 active blogs. I am old enough to be a grandmother (though I am not yet). It's all just bobbins.

    I am sport-averse though!

  2. Why stop at 50ish. Just because we remember old money doesn't mean we can't learn new things. I don't want to use YouTube, had a MacBook Air in preference to an iPad, choose not to have a smart phone. But have taught myself HTML and written and designed my own website. (And I have a bus pass.)

  3. You've echoed what I've been thinking for the past couple of years. My dad bought an early computer and has been building his own ever since. He's 65.

  4. I think they mean your Average Guardian-reading Parent who believes in hand knitted jumpers, mud and wellies and the Great Outdoors. Even though I suspect more Guardian-reading parents are actually cappuccino swilling, i-Pad swiping urbanites (like me.

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  6. Jo, I only stopped at 50 in my appraisal because I didn't think people would be parents of small children after 50 - not because I don't think they can use computers (I'm over 50).

    Jongleuse - you are probably right. The handknitted Guardian reader has given way to the latte-swilling iPad user (like me, too).

    Yes, Mary - all just bobbins! What a wonderful phrase.

    Annalisa - yes, my dad is 82 and does all the computer-fixing for the people in his village! He was the one who bought the Pet and has built his own computers ever since, too.

  7. What about the 'NewBrain'? Was that not the earliest desktop? My ex-partner (sadly deceased, so I can't ask him) was an IT Ubergeek and we had one around the time my daughter was born, in 1983. Can't remember if it was before or after, though (and obviously neither can she). Ring any bells?

  8. Scribble Spud - the NewBrain was a competitor of the BBC micro produced by Sinclair. I really, really don't think it had a graphical user interface, which was first produced on the Apple Lisa after it was copied illicitly (allegedly) after a visit to Xerox Park where a GUI was in development for larger computers. The NewBrain was a desktop computer - and by no means the first - but it didn't, I'm sure, have a 'desktop' like Windows of MacOS. I don't have a NewBrain (or a Lisa) but have most of the others :-)

  9. In our house we all have different parts of the digital landscape in which we are the expert - husband the legal stuff, kids games and shopping, me the broader stuff like what's coming up in technology etc. I'm usually the first adopter of new devices (because I make most household purchases). The Guardian is stuck in a rut on this - it's not us and them, it's families muddling along as they always have.

  10. I had one of the first desktop Apples in 1988, and my mother (now 87) had a computer (an Amstrad) in the early 80's. I'm over 50 and have much the same stuff as Mary, but I am (apparently) unusual in this rural neck of the woods. I frequently meet people my age and considerably younger who are 'tech-averse', and seem to think I'm some kind of freak for understanding how things like Twitter, Facebook and blogs work.

  11. I worked tech support for Apple one summer in college. An 80 year old woman called for a pretty involved technical question on the newly released OS8, which we had barely learned how to troubleshoot. As we were waiting for her computer to reboot, we started talking about video games. She asked if I was surprised an 80 year old played video games. I said it was refreshing to hear. She said, "You just have to remember that computers are dumb. They do whatever it is we tell them to do." Those words have stuck with me.

    Though today, the economy has kept me technologically stunted. I don't have an iPad or a smart phone. I don't have my BluRay set up on the wifi. I don't use XBox Live. But if that lady is still around, I'll bet she does.

  12. Besides, it doesn't take long to learn how to use these simple machines. The brain, however - some people never quite manage that. I despair of the simplicity of journalism, sometimes. Great post, Stroppy.

  13. People who speak of "digital natives" and "digi-phobic" older generation forget who taught those kids how to use computers in the first place. I remember starting a new job and meeting a colleague from my first school who had been a science teacher and was now in charge of infotech.:) My Dad was a silver surfer in his 80s who would have LOVED the iPad I would have bought him. He could have curled up in bed to read the online papers instead of logging on to his computer. I remember how excited I was with my Mac Classic 2 which enabled me to write my books without all the retyping. Now I carry a cute little computer that lets me write, read, go online...bliss! When kids tell me they hate computers I tell them that's because they don't remember what it was like before.

    1. You're so write Sue - and sorry your dad didn't get to have an iPad. There *was* a time, in the 1990s, when some older people were scared of computers - but that's quite a while ago, and there aren't many left. I have a reading aloud group of older ladies and everyone of them uses email and the web all the time. It is a U3A group, and U3A depends on their members using technology - and I'm sure they wouldn't do that if it was disadvantaging a large chunk of their membership.

    2. 'right', I mean, obviously! Doh!