Byte-Size Blues

Samit Basu Published Jun 24, 2024 17:27:19 IST
Byte-Size Blues Shutterstock

It seems like you can’t read the news nowadays without hearing about some new technology that could fundamentally change the lives of people—ideally other people.

I don’t know about you, but despite being fairly tech-friendly my initial reaction is usually one of alarm. And not for big-picture reasons, but for fairly personal ones. Since the dawn of the digital age, one of my permanent concerns about the ever-increasing role of technology in daily life has been the enthusiastic participation of my mother on every possible cutting-edge platform. 

This is not a complaint—I am glad that at 85 she is well ahead of her generation in terms of adapting to the 2020s. I am proud every time she forwards me QR codes, demands OTPs for a bizarre array of transactions, and stays ahead of cybercriminals.

After much counselling, I have even managed to persuade her to limit her presence on social media and not do online surveillance and policing (specifically, language monitoring and fashion commentary) of her many great-nephews and great-nieces. I’ve applauded all her many successful attempts to evolve and adapt to a world that has absolutely no consideration for seniors, where huge tech shifts and behaviour shifts are casually imposed on people, and new kinds of risks and dangers, from actual crimes and scams to physical and mental health challenges, come with all these shifts that seniors are especially vulnerable to.

One thing that’s been a constant through all of this is my mother’s deep and unshakeable conviction that all technology has a personal problem with her. That there is a sinister and vast conspiracy that makes all modern-day hardware and software malfunction in her presence—making all her files disappear, all her passwords mysteriously transform, all her devices run out of battery.

I am usually the person called upon to troubleshoot in these situations, and my feeble attempts at intervention—often over the phone, from another city—not only usually fail, but also lead her to suspect, sometimes, that I am part of this conspiracy against her. That because I started using computers in my teens, and mobile phones in my 20s, I am a magically gifted tech-whisperer, who understands the inner workings of circuitry and signals, the sort of person who could play a hacker in the movies. Except I am now middle-aged myself, and absolutely not a tech-savant by any stretch of the imagination.

The worst part is that I completely understand how she feels, because I often feel this way myself. I think that for every person, no matter how much they intend to keep up with tech change, eventually you hit a wall after which nothing makes sense.

I can blame this on my own age, but it’s not just that. Even genuinely young people, who were born texting, who probably think every flat surface is a touchscreen and would probably talk in emojis if they could, are actually not cyber-geniuses. They just know what we don’t —that tech is not sinister, but stupid. That flailing at solving problems and then learning by trial and error are part of the basic process, and that situations where the machines aren’t listening to us aren’t our fault. The key difference is that the young are very confident when they deal with tech—but isn’t irrational confidence a key feature of youth in the first place?

So what I do now to deal with my mother’s tech woes is encourage her to fake confidence. Because in so many dimensions of 2020s life, that’s really what you need to deal with life. 


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