Business Casual: The Connected Generation

On the day I went to purchase the fabulous new phone that puts the entire technological world at my fingertips – or will, once I master the intricacies of that teeny little keyboard – and allows me to view Tina Fey’s Saturday Night Live routines via YouTube anytime I need a laugh, I had some backup. Even though the phone was a gift from my husband, for the actual shopping expedition I was accompanied by my daughter and her fiancé, two representatives of the Connected Generation.

These are people who grew up with computers and video games and have never had to reprogram their brains to think of a phone as something that travels around with you rather than a stationary piece of equipment that stays at home while you are out missing calls.

They are savvy and sophisticated and delighted to help initiate a convert into the mysteries of advanced connectivity. And if they were snickering behind my back, they were kind enough and smart enough not to let me catch them.

People who know me well are surprised to learn that I have coveted one of these phones since I saw the first ad and wondered whether the price would come down (fortunately, yes) and whether you had to pass a “cool test” to own one (fortunately, no).

I confess there are times when the possibilities of perpetual connectivity overwhelm me and I long for simpler times and the satisfying whine of a good fax machine. But this looked like an opportunity to ratchet up my technological savvy, which is a good thing, even if it is a bit intimidating. I reminded myself that Barack Obama gets the whole connectivity thing; John McCain doesn’t. And look what happened.

I have no desire to run for office, but I would like to embrace the 21st century – and to have a little fun while I’m doing it.

It has long been possible to live your entire life without ever NOT being on the phone. And it is now possible to NEVER be disconnected from the internet and your email, your music, your investments, your calendar, your photo album or your favorite movies.

The mental shift from thinking of a computer as a piece of work equipment to regarding it as a necessary companion to leisure time or the act of breathing can be daunting. It’s not so much the technology as the portability that has changed our lives.

I used to make fun of people who couldn’t handle a simple trip to the grocery store without talking on their mobile phones, as though their trenchant observations on the state of the produce (“The tomatoes look like plastic, but the zucchini is good …”) were just too insightful not to share. But eventually I became what I disdained; it’s actually pretty convenient to be able to call home to find out if we need laundry detergent or cat litter.

Now instead of laughing at people who cannot stand any sort of connectivity vacuum, I am working on becoming the person who pulls out her phone, easily and effortlessly, during dinnertime conversations to resolve disputes or to find answers to questions that arise. (“No, Saving Private Ryan didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar in 1998. Shakespeare in Love did.” Or, “Vince Dooley came to Georgia as football coach in 1964 and became AD in 1979.”)

But it takes practice – and the occasional humiliation – to achieve such proficiency. The second day I had my new toy I took it to work and carried it around very ostentatiously, making sure that all my younger colleagues saw it and had the opportunity to be impressed.

On the third day, I broke it – or at least rendered it unusable in some way I have yet to figure. There was nothing but a white screen.

My personal electronic shoppers, contacted via land line, were puzzled, too. They pointed out, gently, that there are only two buttons on the phone and suggested I try them both. I did, to no avail.

Thoroughly humbled, I found my way, again via land line, to Tech Support, where a nice young man with a calm voice and reassuring manner got me out of my techno-jam in about 20 seconds.

I think he was a little disappointed when I turned down his kind offer to talk me through the process of uploading all my music. I’m going to be taking this connectivity thing a little slower. But I appreciate the backup.

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