Prove your humanity

In 1993, when my mum and dad were respectively fifty-eight and sixty-five, my siblings and I clubbed together to buy them a CD player for Christmas. Mum was a pianist and loved to listen to classical music, whereas Dad favoured the bluesy jazz of saxophonist Acker Bilk. They were very polite, thanking us profusely; we patted ourselves on the back, thinking the job well done.

The following Christmas, as we sat around the fire in a somnolent mood post-lunch, my brother Peter, observing the thick layer of dust on the once shiny black top of the device, asked our parents if they were enjoying the CD player. Rather shame-faced, Mum replied, “We haven’t used it”. It wasn’t because they didn’t like it, but rather, they couldn’t work out how to use it.

Of course, we all fell about laughing.

At that point, none of us understood that technology has this habit of catching up to and surpassing you, leaving your will to remain current exhausted by successive digital advances.

At the time I thought their reaction ridiculous. I was twenty-eight, and the CD player was the latest craze. The crackle of needle on vinyl had been eliminated, it was incredible. When my husband and I acquired a CD player ourselves, it took pride of place in the living room, wired into the amplifier alongside the record deck. It was, as the latest technology seems to be, a must-have item; a visible marker of being on trend. I couldn’t understand my parents’ reluctance, but now, four years shy of the age Mum was then, I’m beginning to understand.

This epiphany bloomed as I began university. Whilst raising my children I had been writing as a hobby, but never with any publishing success. At the age of fifty, and with some encouragement from my eldest son, I applied to university to study creative writing. After waiting anxiously for three months, I received an offer. My thirty-year-old A-level qualifications, amongst other things, had apparently amounted to a passable equivalent to the entrance score.

Once accepted, the self-doubt set in in earnest. I had many concerns, but what I didn’t expect was the challenge that technology would present. While I was digitally active and competent with a computer, I was naive in assuming my skills would be sufficient.

In order to access the learning, of which I am quite capable, I’ve had to acquire a whole new digital skill set; one which has absorbed more time and effort than the writing skills I came to university to master.

The digital hurdles began before I’d had my first class. At home, I was presented with having to enrol in units and book classes, and trundling my way around “my studies”. It’s not that it was difficult, it was just foreign to me. Another chore was the set-up of a parking app (Cellopark) on my phone. It seems so simple, that is, until it goes wrong.

And then there was the online Academic and Professional Writing unit I decided to enrol in. A variety of skills, that I didn’t have, needed to be acquired. How to get into an online classroom for a tutorial, how to use the program Padlet, how to make a slideshow on PowerPoint which included videos of myself – the list goes on. Luckily, I was able to recruit the help of my tech savvy son.

If you were born in the digital age, you’re probably chuckling at this, but it should be noted that the pace of change in my lifetime has been phenomenal. Consider my dad; the first time he needed to use a computer was forty years ago, and he was in his mid-fifties.

In my adult lifetime, I have seen the introduction and rapid development of home computers. Our first, purchased in 1983, was the Spectrum ZX81 with 1K of RAM, and an extra 16K RAM pack that you could plug in. In the same period, mobile phones have gone from resembling a house brick, to a pocket-sized smartphone with an inbuilt personal assistant. Is it any wonder we struggle to keep up?

I have now learnt to refine my approach to technology;  I only learn what I need to. The ‘endnote’ referencing system is a case in point. While I’m sure it can speed things up, it was not worth the time and effort required to learn it. Besides, cutting and pasting the format from the referencing guides and then writing over it works just as well.

In the end, my desire to study gave me the impetus to overcome my disinclination, but it wasn’t without its challenges. For those struggling to keep up with ever developing tech, my fellow reluctant digital immigrants, my advice to you is this; start with small things, success builds confidence; then decide exactly what it is you want to achieve and what tech you need to do it, and learn it. Let go of anything that doesn’t have a positive impact on your life. Isn’t this what everybody does in the end, hold on to what’s useful or necessary and ditch the rest?