As I write this blog post I am 23 and my father-in-law is 72. There are many contributing factors to this age gap – my father-in-law had my husband later in life, and there is an age gap between myself and my husband. The end result is an entertaining inter-generational household where I’m technically young enough to be my father-in-law’s granddaughter (as my own grandfather was about two years older than my father-in-law).
What this means in practice is a slow, yet patient, approach to conversation. I don’t reference memes except to explain them in detail first; I keep my use of lingo to a minimum, and keep to topics where my father-in-law is interested. Gardening, literature, the news, etc.
There is also a semi-formal agreement that, in exchange for the assistance of my in-laws, I also lend a helping hand where it’s needed. While my in-laws are quite robust for their age (genetics and exercise has blessed them) there are cognitive leaps that modern technology has made in ways that leave them struggling to catch up. One such example is a general desire to use modern technology’s mobility despite not understanding how to use it.
Here is a general outline of a conversation I had with my Father-in-law on this topic:
Father In Law: I want to upgrade to a new computer so I can work while travelling.
(The dear owns his own company, and is very proud of his work).
FIL: I also want to get Microsoft Office but the company wants to charge me $300 for two programs.
Me: Oh, not a problem – if you have a business account you can just log in on your browser and…
FIL: …log in?
Me: Yes! You put your email address in the top bar, and your password in the bo-
FIL: I don’t have a password.
Then how do you access your email?
FIL: I just turn the computer on.
Me: Do you remember what you set as the password when you set up your business account?
Me: That’s alright then, you can re-set the password, and there should be link that lets you download the programs you need from the inte-
FIL: How does that work?
Me: Well, if you paid Microsoft for the Business suite of programs, there’s usually a copy for you to use on up to two computers, in case you get a new one – which is what you’re doing.
FIL: And I pay for it over the phone?
Me: No, no you can just download it to your new computer. You’ve already paid for a licence through your business account.
FIL: How do I download it if I don’t have the email program on my new computer?
Me: You log in on the internet.
FIL: The internet?
Me: Yes, the internet. Whatever you use to read the news.
What about OpenOffice? That’s easy to use, right?
Conversations like these are one of the reasons why my visits to the in-laws NEVER takes less than an hour. Each new topic requires an extra fifteen minutes of careful, clear explanation so I don’t end up confusing them. And, with my partner working full-time and my job generally allowing me work-from-home flexibility, I’m the one who usually undertakes this task in my free time. I guide my in-laws through what to do, step-by-step, because their stubbornness refuses to allow me to sit at their computer and give them a tutorial.
Not to complain – but it is very effort-intensive. Hence why I tend not to visit the relatives until I’ve had my coffee.
So far I’ve talked to them about Wifi, the difference between a phone and a tablet (which got very taxing when they found out about Phablets), the difference between a laptop and a tablet, the difference between mobile data and wifi, the difference between Google Docs and Microsoft Office, what a database is, what a server is, and the concept of Twitter over Facebook.
They usually throw their hands up in the air by the end, only for me to return the next week with the topic in question being implemented in my absence. After the conversation about Wifi, I arrived at their house to find that they had installed a wireless router. After explaining the difference between a phone and a tablet, I arrive to find that they both had new phones. It seems – sometimes unwittingly – I’m some sort of consumer advisory that informs their purchasing choices. It’s part flattering, and part worrying, to consider that my opinions can drive their decisions to invest in technology.
I do tip my hat to the efforts that my family goes to, for the purpose of learning and engaging with the world around them. Too often I have seen older people withdraw from everything they don’t understand only to be left out of the fun. I am sincerely happy that they continue to try and ‘keep up with the times’, even if they are small steps like ‘A TV that can play YouTube videos like a computer!‘. Now, my Father-in-law can watch all the documentaries he wants without constantly asking myself or his son to ’email him a link’ to watch on his computer screen later.
Kudos to you, FIL, and may we have many more tech conversations in the future.