I admit, being Generation X has it’s advantages. We aren’t nearly as devoted to our things as the Boomers and we use technology as if it is an external tool, not the internal life-blood of existence itself. If I’m planning a trip, I still prefer to use a map than GPS. I like to write in a journal, not on a screen (there is an element of editing that goes in to transferring it to type). My favorite example of the pseudo-tech is that I prefer to read on a small digital device – that is called a “paperwhite” because of the background and letter type. I also like watches, even if I have to do the spinner/button dance to get the date number to match up after pesky months like February. Gen X, for the most part, uses tech, but doesn’t depend on it. Because we just don’t trust it.
Maybe it was blowing out the cartridges in the old NES, or was that the Atari… either way, you can do away with the cords, you can add all kinds of apps, you can even give me a solar-powered energy bank capable of recharging my phone three times in a 12 hours period (which I have and it is awesome), but I’ll use tech as I want to use it. For example, In the past hundred downloads to my library, 7 were produced after 2010. The internet, all of it is a tool. Social media? That’s how my mom sees pictures of her grandkids without me having to go to the drug store and have them printed. Facetime? Every time I get a video call request I think, “Who the … and it is always someone Gen Y or newer.” I get it, your phone has more power than the space program when they launched the shuttle… Me? I found my Gameboy the other day and was super stoked – once I blew the dust out of the cartridge.
My dad was standing in the kitchen watching me watch the microwave about thirty-five years ago. I was complaining that my popcorn was taking too long. He put his hand on my shoulders and assured me that I would have never been able to live in the fifties. He had a transistor radio with a little white earpiece… I had that height of musical freedom, the Walkman complete with the orange-foam covered headphones (I have a picture with me sporting cargo pants, my Levi’s jacket with the headphones around my neck… while at a football game and they were in band, yet for some reason I thought it appropriate.
But what my dad taught me about all this “new” stuff (like cable, portable sources) was that it was all a tool. The music helped move you, sure, but take off the headphones to have a conversation. It helps you focus, great, but people five feet away from your head should have to put up with a tinny-sounding rendition of “Girls, Girls, Girls” by Motley Crue, and under no circumstances is it appropriate to sing along. Because despite how I think it sounds, when I belt out, “In the days of my youth I was told what it means to be a man, now I’ve reached that age I try to do all those things the best I can…”(Good Times, Bad Times – Led Zepplin) It sounds more like the witch from Hanzel and Gretel than the lead singer of Greta Van Fleet. (If you got that reference I am tearing up with pride.)
All that kind of stuff, it was a tool – mainly to keep the kids quiet. Long before there were idiots on YouTube, Jackass was a thing. I just think it’s a good thing that Knoxville made his money early because there are things that even Steve-O wouldn’t do trending as I type. And then we found out they weren’t only human, they were broken long before the branding – and I don’t care how much money Bam paid his parents, if he were my kid he’d of been arrested. And I watch it – so I know that this is probably going to sound weird coming from an admitted Gen X-er that normally cares as much about the boomer v Gen Y thing as I do the color of bricks on a house cross town. But at some point, all this media content went from an external tool to an interior life-blood.
Let’s say, my wife, son and I walk into a restaurant. My wife, who is a photographer, notices all the colors and shades first. How have they made their space more welcoming? Where are the lights focused? Are their pictures on the walls? How are people dressed? These are the things that concern her – God love her.
Me? Does it smell bad and is too noisy to have a conversation? That’s it. I may notice if the waitress has that weird “outlined by a spoon” eye-makeup thing going on, or if she’s doing that “I just came from playing sports outside” smoke-eye thing (that I assume reduces glare). But other than that, I don’t care about other people in public settings apart from church and functions I am expected to attend.
My son? Do they have wi-fi and do we have to stay?
And I look down at him and realize – much as my dad had to help me navigate this stuff, I’ve got to guide him and frankly, I’ve been too busy watching Nitro Circus to have much of an impact (It is the most fascinating combination of daredevil Evil stuff with Jackass stuff, plus Travis dries as Subie – so there you have it.
So, I’ve got to guide him. And not in a “you can’t watch that” way, or he’ll do whatever the modern equivalent of turning the wheels in the VCR tuner to get free Cinemax is (if you get that, again, please comment). I have to guide him, and being a guide is a difficult job. Sure, I’ve been on tours, you know the “and we’re walking, we’re walking, on your right is a prime example of a painting from the DaDa period…” and whatever else is said is immediately lost in my head singing, “Da do-do-do, da da-da-da, that’s all I have to say to you.” It’s not the guide’s fault that my brain is full of songs and makes random connections. If fact, if I hear a song, and sing all night long, it’s a family tradition. I’ve even hired guides to take me deep sea fishing. We found the deep sea… fish, not so much, but it didn’t really matter since I was riding the cover of the engine compartment except when I lumbered to the side to hork chum for the sharkies. As a friend, I’ve tried to guide folks through difficult patches in their lives – but apparently asking, “Ok, so we know the affair was a bad idea now, but just for clarification, WHEN did it seem like a good idea?” isn’t helpful.
So, how am I, an admitted addict of the internet supposed to guide him?
Well, I look to the model parent (that would be God in my view) then I’m supposed to do something called “Na-Hag.” That’s Hebrew and it has a meaning that doesn’t force people to make the right decisions, but rather to lead people to the right decisions. When he was little, I guess the 22:6 Proverb “Train your child up the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it” was a big part of his life, except when it came to electronics. I pretty much handed him a Kindle and said, “Keep the volume down, Daddy’s going to check his messages” and the went on social media or tried to figure out who that actress was that did that movie that one time in the place with that guy from the TV show that was cancelled after a short run when I was a kid, maybe ten. It was about an Indiana Jones guy that flew a sea plane (it was Tales of the Gold Monkey and it was awesome, not to be confused with Black Sheep Squadron that gave us John Laroquette from Night Court and Ed Begley Jr. or that could have been a Mash Episode where he played the cook – or maybe it was both).
Anyway, how am I, the kid raised on a steady diet of television shows supposed to guide a kid who is just like his dad?
By teaching him, it isn’t the life-blood of existence. It is a tool. It’s a library where, unfortunately, everyone not only has a card but also can write books – or blogs of random lengths kvetching about weird things like Biblical Hebrew and I do that knowing that I could be very wrong, because I didn’t take advanced Hebrew classes in seminary because…. honestly I was more interested in playing Rainbow Six with my friend Andy.
It’s by sometimes choosing to use a map and a compass. To show him that their are ways to do things without the phone. It’s to band electronics on the ride to school (which I did) so we have to talk about things. It’s making “after homework, or after 5:30 whichever comes last” a thing for electronics use. It’s by making him budget the time and limiting it to… well, what still seems an absurd amount of time when you see it written down. It’s by understanding that his need for connection to his friends through that damned game is just as important to him as my need to have my huffy in working order to jump ramps with the kids in what was left of the woods after the new development came through. It’s by taking him to help his brothers and sisters move – but it is going to be hard to top when Shawn drove him through Fort Rucker and a Blackhawk helicopter did a slow flyover barely off the deck.
It’s about getting him journals and pens and encouraging him to write stuff down so when the teachers assign creative writing pieces or “what I did over spring break pieces he at east has some notes to help him make something other than “Luke and I played Fourth-Kite until 2am every night!” Even if it’s only, “I tried pears – not a fan.” It’s encouraging him to read and talk about what he’s read, even if it’s “juvenile fiction” that involves the eighth graders ruling their school for a day because they won the soap-box Derby championship (which of course starts a conversation about what a soap is, because it’s foreign to a 12 year old that uses body wash as if it were somehow precious and so finite that he only has 5 ounces to last for his lifetime).
It’s about guiding him until one of us dies. Which is both sad and true, and teaching him that things that are sad can be true, but you don’t have to focus too much on them.
And teaching him that “Is bigfoot a girl” might be ok, with safe-search on, but “girl big foot” is probably not (I checked, it’s definately weird, but “Bigfoot Girl” is apparently a movie staring Kiana Passmore, who is also apparently a recording artist. That’s a big deal, at nineteen she’s managed to be an actress I’ve never heard of and a musician I’ve never heard of either. But since my main musical influence apart from the Wheels on the Bus kids is Lisa Lobe singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” on Amazon… Oh, and if you know her please thank her for me. Also, I’ve never heard a Justin Beiber song, and apparently, he’s a big deal. But I could be wrong about that.
Which is why I won’t be able to guide him about everything, all the time. I’ll teach him how to use the tools of his era, the way my dad referenced the tools of his. But I’ll be as clueless about some of it as he was to “Dungeons and Dragons” (which was going to ruin lives – apparently) or what the heck was so fascinating about two plumbers trying to rescues a princess. And do this day, I still remember him doing the Ed Lover dance in front of one of my dates… uh-huh-uh-huh, let me clear my throat.
But I do know that one day, I’ll probably be having a conversation with my son, just like my dad did with me, and without much fan-fare or hoopla or any of the other words that are more fun to say than to read (try it), I’ll realize that my son will have reached a point where it’s time, and I’ll reach in to my chest-of-drawers and pull out something that may mean a lot more to me than to him, and I’ll give him these things and tell him to take care of them. I’ll give him his grandfather’s compass (he already has his other grandfather’s set of binoculars) and one of my pocket knives (probably not my bad-ass Blackhawk Helicopter seat-belt cutter glass-breaking survival knife I picked up at Fort Rucker (you can read that back and Yee-Hah at the end if you like, I did).
Then we’ll make some breakfast and I’ll show him how to clean and cook with it. And to make sure he pays attention. The wi-fi will be turned off.
May God guide you, guard you and grant you peace – Amen