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Technology - The New Generation Gap

by Mike Gropper
November 11, 2016

"People fear things they depend on but don't have any control over. That's technology." (The Atlanta, October 6, 2015)

Technophobia, from the Greek techne, is the fear or dislike of advanced technology or complex devices, especially computers (American Heritage Dictionary). Many people, especially baby boomers, people born after the Second World War, are intimidated by technology. Most young people are not.

A few years ago, I was in my office trying to change the paper roller on a new credit card machine, and I simply could not figure out how to do it. My client, who was sitting in the office at the time, a 22-year-old university student, knew exactly how to do the change. He smiled and said to me, "Dr. Gropper, stick to therapy."

Truth be told, I do not consider myself inept when it comes to technology. However, when something goes wrong with my printer or desktop, such as when I am downloading a new program, fixing a computer problem, or trying to figure out how to use some of the features or applications on my smartphone, I do feel stressed.

Faced with a technological problem, I am the first to admit that I turn to my children, who are millennials, and ask the familiar question asked by my generation: "How do I do that?" The usual response is "Abba, google it." In fact, I do just that and, sometimes, I happily find the answer to my question.

However, I often prefer to pick up the phone and call the support services for my computer or printer. Many people in my baby boomer generation like to speak to people to find things out, rather than search the Internet and read. Ira Wolfe put it this way: "Comfort with and proficiency using technology is not natural to boomers. They are, by the mere fact of their age, digital immigrants. They live in a foreign environment, forced to learn new languages for communication, new tools to keep informed and in touch. Try as they might to act young, digital communication is not their native language" (www.huffingtonpost.com).

Young people, teenagers or those in their 20s and early 30s are part of a digital generation that has grown up in a world surrounded by technology and the Internet. Moreover, they are using mobile phones, tablets, e-readers and computers on a daily basis. Younger people do not read directions. They just unpack electronic devices, gadgets, phones and cameras, put it together and begin using it.

It is quite amazing for a boomer to watch this behavior. Baby boomers are the parents and grandparents of the younger generations. Boomers grew up with simple technology: record players, television sets that had antennas, and simple dial or touch-tone phones.

Baby boomers played outdoors as children, often riding their bicycles, playing sports or other outdoor games. That computers were not part of their childhood is hard for today's young people to grasp. Recently, I read a research study that stated that children today spend more time on their computers than riding bicycles. The world has shifted from the focus on exercise of the body to cognitive and intellectual development.

For many people over 50 years old, their lack of confidence and know-how regarding technology creates a generation gap with their children and grandchildren. How should this older group cope when they feel they cannot keep up or even understand how younger people solve and interact with computer-age technology?

Wolfe tries to answer this question: "First and possibly foremost, baby boomers are the most active senior generation in history. Many baby boomers are determined to defy the inevitable - aging. To stay relevant at work and connected with their friends and family, they use the Internet often. From news and weather to grandkids and childhood friends, online access isn't a luxury - it's a necessity."

Wolfe goes on to say though that there are two types of baby boomers, and their reactions to using the Internet and learning the new technologies are quite different.

One group is composed of complainers. They continuously mourn the decline of print media and landline phones and miss the good old days before the advent of all this modern technology. This group either refuses to learn about or use this new technology, or eventually learns to use it in an extremely limited way.

The other group of baby boomers, says Wolfe, wants to keep up with change and stay modern with the latest programs, smartphones and newest technologies. Perhaps they see the new technology as a way to stay young.

Ultimately, baby boomers have a choice to make when it comes to using new technological devices. If you decide you want to make use of the new technology, but you feel intimidated, get yourself a mentor. When all else fails, remember: You can always google it!
The writer is a marital, child and adult cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist, with offices in Jerusalem and Ra'anana.

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