If you’re under the age of 90, you’re probably old enough to know about computers, at least well enough to send an email. Those over 90 tend to mistrust electronics and prefer the elegance of a handwritten note. One elderly woman at our retirement center likes to sit in the lounge, by the blazing winter fire, and write notes to her friends in her lovely cursive script — a skill many schools no longer teach.
Those of us under 90, but above 30, soldier on with a technology we barely understand. If we do, a day inevitably comes when we find ourselves staring at a blinking screen. The message says “touch nothing,” A stranger in India or Pakistan is upgrading our computers, whether we will or not. That I was about to hit the “send” button to my doctor requesting a lobotomy is of no concern to Microsoft.
Believe it or not, how we interact with our computers tells others as much about our age as a sample of our DNA. If I write sentences like, “I’m so upset,” or “That’s really funny,” without the aid of an emoticon, everyone will know I’m over the age of 20. Walter Kirn, who certainly exceeds that number, sees something sinister in those smiley or frowny faces. Tongue-in-cheek, he suggests techies want us to use them to cleanse us of our complex feelings and make it easier for us to interface with Artificial Intelligence. (“Easy Chair,” by Walter Kirn, Harper’s, June 2017, pg.7.)
Which brings me to my narrow point. What defines our age are our expectations. If I don’t expect or require much privacy in my personal life, I am young, possibly, very young. If I imagine my purchases will arrive by drone rather than Fed Ex, I am young. If I shop at the Mall instead of the internet, I am old. If I expect technology to adapt to me rather than I to it, I am very old, indeed.