Mom, Technology, and the English Language

Whenever my mom needs her DVD player or stereo hooked up, she always calls me.  Where my dad is in these situations I will never know.  More than likely, he’s in the back bedroom watching Jeopardy on a television set he’s had since the fifties.  Still, it's the natural progression of life.  Mom probably started with Dad until she got so frustrated at him that she called me, which she wanted to do in the first place. "I bought us a new DVD player," my dad would say, with those eyes that little kids have on Christmas morning.

I’ve never been big on electronic gizmos.  I don’t care about special features or how loud or wide or intense the graphics are.  Simple.  Xbox, PlayStation, Wii, Nintendo – I’m happy with my Atari and two-dimensional Asteroids game.  Simple is good.  Plug it in and let it work. 

A friend loaned me her iTouch because the music on my phone stopped working.  It was my fault probably for trying to combine two technologies – phone and music player.  “You’ll love it,” she said.  She was so excited.  It was almost like she was getting it except it was already hers.  “You can do so many things on it.”

“I just want to play music.”  It was the same size as an index card and not much thicker.

“But you can have photo albums, search the Internet and even write on it.”  Her voice matched my dad’s Christmas eyes.

“Music.  Me want music.”

So for four months I listened to my show tunes.  I was happy and content.  However, out of necessity one day, I started fumbling with the pictures and the Internet and figured out how they worked and even discovered the notepad on the device.  With my right thumb I wrote this essay and emailed it to my home computer, all while I drove around town.


Still, my mom would stare at my dad standing there with his new toy as she reached for the phone.  "That's great!  I'll call Robbie." "Why would you call Robbie?"

"So he can come hook it up."

"I can hook up a simple DVD player, Mary.  He's not boy genius, you know.  He doesn't even know how to put oil in his car."

"He's not mechanical; he's technical.  I'm calling him."

And that's how husbands become ignorant as we get older.  It's not due to the advancements of technology but to our wives passing our brains down to our sons.  I'm talking from experience here.

After we moved into our new house, I came home one day to my eldest son putting our entertainment center together - television, DVR, DVD, Wii, VCR - everything.

I looked at Char.  "What's he doing?"

"See?  The fact you don't know is why I asked him to do it."

So, I settle in my easy chair with a mug of Earl Grey and a Terry Brooks novel and wait for the raft on which they'll push the old man out to sea.  Okay, so there isn't really a raft and sea, but there is an easy chair and reality TV.  That's how it happens.  One minute you're a miracle worker because you put aluminum on the antennae for better reception; the next you don't even know how to work an electric razor

"Happy Birthday, Dad.  I bought you an electric razor."

"This was your mom's idea, wasn't it?  Electricity and water don't mix.  Even I know that."

 "No, Dad.  You don't use water.  It's electric."

 "That's what I said.  You can't use electricity with water.  And your mom thinks you're the brainy one."

 Perhaps it’s an age thing.  Mom would start with me, but, since Nathan has graduated, she now automatically asks for him when she has a technological problem.  It doesn't really bother me.  I see it as revenge for some of his stunts growing up.  Plus, I've earned it.  After all, am I not the one who answered all of those calls while Dad was in his easy chair?  This is the Father-Son baton.  I know that wives think it's something like grilling or carving the turkey at Thanksgiving, but really, this is it.  Electronics.

Nathan called me the other day.  “Did Grandma ever get hold of you?”  She hadn’t.  “She was asking questions about jump drives.”

Nathan couldn’t see it but I was totally confused.  So, I called my mom.  “Did you get a computer?”

“I did.”  She did.  I’ve wanted Mom to get one for quite awhile because she lives in Alabama and email might save me from those early morning phone calls.  Plus, it would be nice for her to see all the pictures we take on the digital camera of her grandkids.  I was glad for digital camera technology because I am lousy at getting real film developed.  I’m not joking. I have a basket with about fifty rolls of film crying not to be forgotten.

“Did you get it hooked up?”  I asked this while my eyes were squinted shut as if I could hear a bomb ticking in the background.

“Yeah, but I can’t get the floppy-disk in.”

“Flip it over and try.”

“Still nothing.  I think this computer is bad.”

“Turn it 180 degrees and put it in.”

“Well, look at that.  It’s in.  You are a genius.  I told you’re dad you were.” Before they moved, my Mom bought a cell phone, one with a camera, which was a great idea - for her. My cell phone rang at six in the morning because in twenty years she hasn't realized that I don't get up until nine. Don't groan at me. My middle son doesn't wake up until two and if I can respect his alarm clock, I think mine should be respected as well.  Not by me, of course.  I'm beating the crap out of my alarm clock every chance I get.

"Did I wake you up?"

"No, Mom.  I always sound like this."

"I've noticed that lately.  You should see a doctor."

"I was thinking of seeing a hit man instead."

"Char giving you troubles again?"

"What do you need, Mom?"

So, later that day, I go to my parents’ house to find that they each have a new phone.  Since this is the one piece of technology that Char hasn't taken from me and given to our sons, I can instruct my parents on the joy of mobile phones.  Two hours and several aspirin later, my parents had a contact list set up, speed dial with the major players and a working knowledge of the phone's camera.  I was on my way home to mix scotch with my aspirin.

The next morning my phone went off at 6:02.  However, it wasn't a phone call, but a text message.  As I was trying to figure out in my sleep-clouded mind where all of my kids were, I opened the phone.

"Hope u have a gr8 morn luv u c u ltr."

I groaned.  Someone had taught my mother to text.  It’s not the fact that she was texting me at six in the morning as opposed to calling me that bothered me. The text doesn't demand an immediate response unless you're one of my children and then they had better be quick to reply.  No, what turned last night's meatball sub in the pit of my gut was what she wrote.

I am not a fan of net-speak.  Words convey meaning and depth, complete thought.  Letters merely prove that as Americans we've even become too lazy to type three simple words - by the way (btw).  Or are we that impatient to say what's on our mind that we can't even talk properly?

"C u @ 9”  Most times, people refuse to use punctuation.  Grant it, you can usually tell a question from a sentence but still, I prefer as close to proper grammar as one can get.  In tenth grade, I had Mr. Woertendyke for creative writing and one of the exercises he gave us were page-long letters from a cockroach.  Now since the poor bug had to jump on each typewriter key to make the impression, he avoided things such as punctuation, capital letters, spaces or even paragraphs.  Many of his words were also misspelled.  Our assignment was to decipher the bug's typing and write the letter properly.  That is how I feel when many people text or email me.  I wanted to stomp that cockroach with my Prentice-Hall Handbook for Writers 8th Edition.  

I usually refuse to respond, and inevitably my phone will ring.  "Did u get my note?"

"I didn't get a message, just you cussing at me in cartoon lingo."

It’s bad enough when it’s on the computer, but the other day my middle son, Chris, used it while speaking.  “LOL, LOL!!!  TMI TMI.  LMBO!”  I slapped him in the back of the head.  Acronyms are for the medical field and government agencies, not normal conversations.

Perhaps that's why the wives pass the electronics to the sons.  We can no longer read the manuals.

* * * * *

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