With growing amusement (and only mild alarm), my wife and I have been noticing how our parents’ quirks have gotten, well, quirkier. My mother and father, for instance, steadfastly refuse to text-message. “I don’t want to get charged,” my mother says. And besides, “Why do you need to text when you can just call me?” Of course, this assumes she hears her flip-phone at all—it’s often buried deep inside her handbag. She also has a habit of turning the phone off.
While I pay most of my bills online, the mere thought of entering credit card information on a website makes my parents uneasy. As for ATMs, “Someone can just walk up to you and take your cash!” my mother warns. Instead, she prefers going to her bank and waiting in line for the next available teller. Those cash machines just plain scare her.
My in-laws, meanwhile, have an LCD television in their living room and pay for high-definition channels. Yet I’ve never seen them watch anything HD on this flat-screen. “I can never remember those channels,” my mother-in-law complains. They end up watching letter-boxed programs but zoom in to get rid of those pesky black bars.
There was a time, however, when my parents were downright cutting-edge. Among our friends, our family was one of the first to purchase a VCR. This was back in the early 1980s, and the state-of-the-art videocassette-recorder we acquired was an RCA Selectavision 650. According to a commercial preserved on YouTube, this model boasted “a maximum 6 hours’ recording time, an unsurpassed 14-day memory, and remote control special effects like slow motion, picture search, and stop action.”
But at some point my parents could no longer keep up with the technology. “Everything just happens too fast,” an older colleague explains. “You’ve got no choice but to slow your game down” in order to succeed at a few tasks.
Now, to be fair, my parents have caught up in some respects. They do use an iPad and keep in touch with relatives on Facebook (and play hours of Candy Crush). Likewise, my mother-in-law just bought her first smartphone. One day she and my father-in-law may even watch programs in high definition.
“You wait,” my wife tells me. “One day our children will be making fun of us.” But I have my doubts. After all, I still do my best to keep current. For example, I recently upgraded my smartphone to an iPhone 4s, although this prompted a former colleague to respond, “They still make those?”
When asked if I’ve been watching Game of Thrones, I confess I canceled HBO after The Sopranos ended in 2007. But we do have Netflix. “So what did you think about that insane first episode of House of Cards?” another asks. At which point I explain we are still a Netflix-by-mail household: We receive an actual disc in our mailbox. When we’re done, we mail it back, and a few days later another movie arrives—but the second season of House of Cards is still not available in this format. “Why don’t you just use Netflix streaming?” friends ask.
Stream what? Apparently I can access movies on the Internet through my Blu-ray player. Except I do not own a Blu-ray player.
My wife and I only recently finished viewing The Wire, which ended in 2008. One of these years we’ll finally find out why there was so much fuss about that show Breaking Bad. (I am suddenly reminded of the Onion headline “Aliens Mourn As Final Cheers Episode Reaches Alpha Centauri.”)
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal examined a new smartphone app called Venmo. As Journal columnist Joanna Stern explained, “I pulled up the payment-exchange app on my iPhone, punched in my debit-card number and typed in a quick ‘To Julie, $286 for such a fun weekend’ and hit send. Even before I had returned home to begin the recovery process, the money was in her Venmo account, ready to be cashed out into her bank account, or used for another payment.” I can’t imagine ever doing this.
Meanwhile, the Chop’t Creative Salad Company has begun to replace its loyalty card with a smartphone app. So rather than having your card scanned with every purchase (enough visits will earn you a free drink, a cookie, and even a salad), you simply scan your phone. But there’s a catch—you must also pay using your phone. So I haven’t been there since the changeover because paying by phone (and using it for scanning) is something I just don’t do—I even avoid using my debit card unless I’m withdrawing cash from an ATM run by my bank.
Using my phone instead of my wallet? That just plain scares me.