As many prepare to trudge home for Thanksgiving, an old dread is in our hearts. Our poor, confused parents and their malfunctioning routers that need fixing. But maybe even scarier? Now they're starting to embrace the same tech we do.
One of the perkiest perks of having a tech savvy spawn is the comfort of free, lifetime tech support. I've had to field some agonizing, desperate calls in the past.
"Sam, how do I shut down the Comcast?"
"Honey, how do I unplug the printer?"
"Where is AOL?"
We love them, but MY GOD. And Thanksgiving is—you might be fearing—more than any other holiday hotpoint, the epicenter of parental tech obliviousness. It's probably been a while since you've seen them. And in your absence, has every unplugged cord, forgotten WiFi password, and crashed hard drive been piling up? Thanksgiving chitchat can be straining enough—but the thought of my Mom asking me what an IP address is could be most horrifying at all. Where to begin? It would be like explaining the Large Hadron Collider to a member of some Amazonian tribe.
Right? Well, no, not exactly. Sometime in the past month, my mother got a new phone. Which isn't anything new. The woman has—and, really, I love her like none other—lost, damaged, and misused an inordinate number of phones. A shocking number, really. And not ordinary phones, but the absolute worst, clunkiest, astoundingly bad phones. Phones that deserved to be lost, really.
But now she was rocking Android.
It was easy for me to ignore from afar. But then the texts starting showing up. Long ones. Frequent ones. Detailed enough that they could have only been pecked out with a luxurious smartphone screen. Granted, they at times sounded like they were being written by a shackled hostage frantically typing with her nose, but there they were. And then the emails. And then the photos. At first I condescended—wow, she was learning! But in reality, she was doing exactly the same things I do with my phone every day.
There is simply something fundamentally weird about watching your mom use a touchscreen. At first.
But it isn't just her. I asked around, and the Giz crew's parental units are on a similarly wacky tech trajectory back home, it seems.
Kyle's mom was upstairs downloading the iPad issue of Vanity Fair.
Spratt's parents were having a Lady Gaga-fueled Kinect dance off.
Matt? Under a barrage of all-caps BlackBerry texts from his dad.
Brian Lam's dad—perhaps taking the cake in tech aptitude-meets-confusion, has taken quite a shining to AIM. So much so that he has a separate account for each of his five apartments, making contacting him a little... infuriating.
And my own father now prompts me for a nightly FaceTime chat around 7:30 pm. The camera in his iPhone 4. He loves that camera. He is beholden to it. Educated as an electrical engineer, he doesn't approach technology with the same chimpanzee-at-the-monolith approach as my mother once did, but he still has his fatherly quirks—the man simply loves to send me pictures of things. Here's the cat! Here's the duck! Here's the tree! Here's the bumblebee! It's like a child's picture book, as relayed through MMS and email. These are our parents? Technology used to be where we were safe. A boundary. A refuge! And it was what I could lord over my mother in exchange for her doing my laundry when I came home.
It's not quite the same anymore—and it's weirding us the hell out. Hearing the word "app" come out of your mother's mouth at first is like hearing her mention some sort of horribly crude sex maneuver. It's simply unnatural. At dinner this past month, casually pinching across her home screen, she sipped her martini and asked if she should get on Twitter. I nearly gagged.
I can't help it. And maybe scarier, I can't stop it. Soon after buying an iPhone, my father snatched up an iPad. I'm sure he's somewhere right now, having a slurp of red wine and tapping out a two line email to me about our dog. But the stuff has just gotten so simple, so well designed, that, at the risk of being supremely insulting to an entire generation of Americans, anyone can use it. Even my mother, who now and then finds herself unable or unwilling to turn off caps lock. And that's a good thing. Better design means more people doing little things that make them happy—like sending their children photos of a log. It also means fewer panicked PLEASE I BEG YOU WHAT IS A MODEM late night phone calls.
So I'm not sure what awaits me—or any of us—at home this Thanksgiving. I do know that it'll probably involve me helping my dad pick out an iPad case, and showing my mom some cool new Android apps. I'll have—can it be?—cooler, tech-savvier parents. I also know that reading the previous two sentences still freaks me out a little.
Illustration by Contributing Illustrator Sam Spratt, based on Norman Rockwell's "Freedom from Want". Check out Sam's website and become a fan of his Facebook Artist's Page. Like this Rockwell spin-off image? Check out the highly dysfunctional version Spratt did for Gawker right here.