Wednesday January 2, 2013
Stuck in the old?
By JOYCE HEE
“LIFE is like this cruise, Charlie Brown,” says Lucy of Peanut fame. “Some people take their deck chairs to the front of the ship so they can see where they are going. Other people take their chairs to the back so they can see where they have been. Which are you?”
I imagine Lucy posing the same question to me and, without a moment’s hesitation, I’d classify myself as a “front deck” person. My rationale is that I’m not history-oriented and not given to repeating stories of old, whether it be in lamentation, self-pity or self-exaltation. I don’t bask in the magnificent past and smugly prided myself on having a positive outlook.
But a stray thought suddenly hits me like a thunderbolt, rendering me speechless: “Are you sure you’re not living in the past? Your computer illiteracy equals anachronism in this age of technology.”
Admittedly, I seem to have a natural aversion to things technical. Blame it on my genes, but I am a stickler for the old, comfortable and familiar, and resist anything new. To start learning basic computer skills is a colossal task, a stressful, mind-boggling and gruelling exercise that is likely to expose my deficiency as a slow learner. Psychologically, I am already defeated before I begin.
Most of my classmates who had not upgraded themselves academically after school have graduated to using e-mail, Skype and even Facebook, whilst I, with my tertiary education, am still stuck in the outdated mode of communicating via letters, cards and telephone calls.
If there is one point I can use in defence of my age-old habit, it is that I’ve been faithfully corresponding for over 50 years with my pen-pal from Perkasie, Pennsylvania, since my school days. Although we have never met and she is now confined in a home, we never fail to send each other Christmas and birthday cards and presents annually, with short letters enclosed. My hunch is that she is also computer illiterate, like me, but considering her age, she has a more legitimate excuse.
To my baby boomer, computer savvy contemporaries, I am a misnomer to our sophisticated, educated generation of the new fifties. Old is gold and bold to me, though I may misuse the term here to include tools and gadgets.
My highly technical better half, who is also my unpaid scribe, has complemented me so well that I am hardly driven to learn skills that go against the grain of my natural inclination or passion. I believe in the dignity of being independent, intellectually stimulated and keeping in step with the times by tapping into the vast expanse of knowledge in the Internet world. But nothing can stir me to change, just like a leopard cannot change its spots. I have coined a new term to describe my condition, “technical dyslexia”, to camouflage the less acceptable and possible root of my real problem – sheer laziness and reluctance to come out of my comfort zone.
My granddaughter Alysha, now 12, is still waiting, after five long years, to educate her grandmother on basic computer skills.
This resistance to change, even for the better, is a phenomena my computer savvy spouse, who enjoys learning new things, will never fathom. Our brains are wired on the opposite ends of the spectrum – an engineer’s practical, precise and meticulous mind versus a simple, set mind that thrives on approximation and familiarity.
I am such an incorrigible creature of habit that he has stopped selling me more efficient ideas of handling household chores and tasks. After more than 40 years together, he has learnt the virtue of tolerance and so leaves me to my devices. I have learnt the virtue of graciousness by acknowledging his more effective methods and even making some concerted effort to follow through. Whether I continue adopting the more innovative ways is another story. Occasionally, it helps to “play the fool” so that I can sit back and let him do more things for me.
He has also accepted the fact that I am spatially impaired and has stopped introducing new and more direct routes, knowing, from experience, that the likelihood of my ending up in unknown territory is great. For one who often cannot tell the left from the right, I have also learnt the wisdom of getting someone to accompany me to the rest-room in a big building (not even a shopping mall), just to avoid the hassle of a merry-go-round hunt.
Realising that to grow older is to get more entrenched in my old habits and ways is alarming. Older people tend to be relentless and unyielding in their opinions, their sense of judgment often clouded by prejudices and stereotypes.
I do not wish to be the next candidate for the hardened Rock of Gibraltar, a pain in the neck, especially to those close to me. To live up to the title of a “cool grandmother” (as a lad calls me), I must be reasonably upbeat, accommodating, high spirited and energetic – a good specimen of growing old gracefully.
A mental picture of two old persons constitute a wake-up call for me to change, intentionally and radically, before my resistant mind-set evolves to become an ugly personality trait. I would rather be the “incredible Hulk” than the “impossible Hulk” – one of which was my late mother. Much as she was a gem in many ways, her ideas and opinions were often cast in stone, whether or not they were sound.
Another person I know has opinions built on stereotypes and prejudices. Based on a few cases, his belief system was set on the premise that all “China girls” had loose morals, as were those associated with them. As a result he did not allow his daughter to befriend a “China national girl” who was proper and had a decent job. He even threatened to disown her if she did not cut off all ties with the girl, for fear that “bad company begets bad morals”. He was beyond reason and argument and nothing could persuade him to change his mind. The irony is that the daughter was not a naïve and flighty teenager, but an intelligent, well-educated lady in her forties.
All this challenges me towards a major paradigm shift, not just in thinking but also behaviour. I have resolved to break away from the familiar path of least resistance and flow with the times. As someone puts it, perseverance breaks resistance.
I have embarked on my maiden voyage towards change by taking the first baby step – learning how to SMS. I have even jumped on the bandwagon to defy all rules of grammar, spelling, language form and usage to make my messages short and sweet.
What was unthinkable to me before as a gross assassination of the English language has become my SMS language too. Having become “smarter” through practice, I surprised myself by sending this “atrocious” message: “tq. u r grt.” I
As David Stark says: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
Inspired by those words, I have also started fiddling with my husband’s smartphone. The formidable task of learning computer skills may soon be my next project. My inertia to change and my psychological hang-ups have been overcome (I hope)!
> Old is gold, and bold. So, let us hear what you have to say, about whatever excites you, makes you happy, sad or concerned. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Published contributions will be paid, so please include your full name, IC number, address and telephone number.