Opinion: Tech turns the tables


by Miriam Bradman Abraham

Issue of January 22, 2010/ 7 Shvat 5770
We parents have the difficult responsibility to educate our children, but recently I have noticed the tables have turned. Although we still give advice and direction, both solicited and not, to our nearly grown up children, it has become obvious that I am now learning so much from them.

I've heard about writers and artists enjoying salons or soirees, inviting their peers to discuss each other's work, give and get critiques, explore ideas, and to become inspired. A similar thing has developed in our home when our young adults gather with their friends. Whether they hang out and jam, share their books, or talk about their professors and assignments, fresh ideas are tossed about quickly and easily. I can barely keep up with the speedy banter, techno speak and slang as well as political and social commentary. I wonder how and why some speak so fast, and how they multi-multi task? Sometimes being slow to understand it all causes me to retreat as I remember my age, but I have found my kids to be fairly patient as they fill in the gaps in my knowledge. They are excited to discover and share the wealth of new ideas and I get the benefit.

I remember studying computer science in the late 70's. Dinosaur age information now, but at the time it was cutting edge (with jobs available for all). I'd come home late at night after spending hours loading giant reels, punching cards and reading printouts in the computer room with my bleary eyed fellow programmers. When I explained to my dad the intricacies and logic of PL/1, Cobol and Assembly language, he was all ears and it was mutually fun to share my new world with him. Today my dad is computer illiterate, leaving my mom to do the emailing and Googling. He decided virtual contact is beyond him since he won't pursue something he can't understand. He still thinks fondly of his old typewriter and I'm so grateful that my dad agreed to use a cell phone before giving up on new technology. His generation has lived through so many big and small changes that we take for granted: television, frequent flying, ATM banking, etc... I wonder about the constant onslaught of new innovations. At what point will my generation decide we cannot absorb any more newness?

Not so long ago, I couldn't picture having the generation gap with my kids that I had with my parents. My parents are immigrants from Cuba, and their parents were immigrants to Cuba and the U.S. from Poland, so the three generations had significant clashes of culture and of the different historical times. Having grown up in New York like my kids I didn't anticipate any cause for real adversity, other than disliking some of the noise, er, music that they enjoy. But now I begin to see that at some point it will be rapid technological advances that will cause the gap. I depend on Google, Wikipedia and MapQuest for answers, Facebook for some social networking, and e-mailing is a huge part of my life, but I don't know if I'll ever adjust to reading digital books (I still haven't heard an audio book), and all the upcoming technologies we can't even begin to imagine.

In the meantime, I'll continue to listen closely to my kids as they explain what they're thinking and learning and accept the good. I will, as my parents do, exercise my right to respectfully comment or even disagree. I fervently wish to continue a lifelong vibrant discourse with the next generation. I hope that will keep me young and inspired and prevent me from falling into the gap.

Miriam Bradman Abraham is Cuban born and Brooklyn bred. Currently writing her immigrant father's memoirs, she is a reviewer for Jewish Book World and chairs Hadassah Nassau Region One Region/One Book, in addition to serving as Hewlett Hadassah editor, webmaster and Book Fair Coordinator.