Friday, January 14, 2011

Analog Girl in a Digital World

I am always quite thrilled, in that small-t thrilled way, to hang my new calendar up and crack open my new At-A-Glance each January. There's something hopeful about all that fresh scheduling space and all those pretty pictures to look forward to each month.

But the other day when I mentioned this, my kids looked at me quizzically, as they so often do since they went away to college. "Why do you need a wall calendar?" one son asked.

"So I can see what date it is," I explained.

"You can Google that, you know," he replied, scornfully.

"I know, but I like to see what day goes with what date, and how many more days are left in the week and how many more weeks are left in the month," I replied, patiently.

"Pfffttt" is the closest I can come to the sound he made next, something between bafflement and pity. Poor old girl, stuck in the last century.

Remember when the Generation Gap described a dichotomy in parents' and kids' musical taste, political proclivities or sexual mores? No more. I would like to posit that today's Generation Gap involves the analog vs. digital divide.

What distinguishes my attitudes and habits from those of my Millenial offspring? It's wearing a wristwatch and reading the print version of the newspaper, and even watching the television set.

It's a spatial thing. I seem to need the physicality of objects to orient myself in space and time. And not only do I rely on a watch, I actually prefer an ancient two-hands-that-point-at-the hours-and-minutes timepiece.

But why oh why do you need a watch, or even a clock, when your phone can wake you up and tell you the time? my kids will ask.

And why trek outside to pick up an inky newspaper (or several, at my house) made from dead trees when you can read any number of them online, for free?

The other day, when I informed my son that I had recorded his favorite TV show for him, he made another one of those "pffffttt" noises. "I can watch it online, you know," he said.

"Yes, but I thought you might enjoy watching it on the big screen in the comfortable living room, instead of hunched in front of your computer," I replied, teeth clenched.

He smiled patiently. "Thanks, Mom," he said, patting my hand.

I didn't say anything, but I noticed later that he did watch the show in the living room, on the teevee.

Score one for the old girl. There's some life in that analog universe yet.


  1. This reminds me of a conversation many weeks ago on Altadena Hiker's blog about the spatial concept and how people conceptualize their calendar. I "see" my week in a certain way, laid out flat and segmented. A digital calendar is okay in a pinch, but I've got to have a wall calendar and a date book because that's how I picture my days.

  2. I have that spatial concept of the calendar also, but my year kind of spools out around my head in circular fashion - which sounds weird, but that's how I see the months moving past.

    When I said that I needed a wall calendar for that reason, my son pointed out that it's flat and one-dimensional just like my computer screen.

    But there is still something about having it a)permanently up there and b)being able to cross off the days and see the progress of the month, for me.

    We're going out of town and I feel the same way about a map. Seeing a little chunk of a city on a computer screen is just not the same as having a paper map I can spread out on a table and look at all at once.

  3. Exactly--spatial relationships, of one part to the other part. I wonder if these different ways of conceptualizing will affect society in an appreciable way?

  4. You have to figure they will, somehow, I think.

  5. Really interesting! It's incredibly true how the new generations avoid the "physicality of objects". All seems to be found on the web. There're still people who prefer to read an actual paper rather than do so on the web. Physical contact with objects, such as a calendar, make you feel you're living in a tangible real world. ;).

    It was not only interesting but fun to read. Thanks!

  6. Thanks, Laura. Another thing I notice with the younger generation is that they are extremely comfortable with online interaction but not so much with phone calls and face-to-face interactions.

    An interesting trend that's going to have some big implications for the future, I think.

  7. I'm sure it will, Karen.

    I know teens who spend more time 'online' rather than 'on real life', interacting with real people.