Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

There's a huge-and ever-widening-communications gap between my kids and me.

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“Roll down your window,” I instructed my son as I started the engine on the minivan.

He shot me a look as he touched the power button. “That makes no sense. I’m not rolling anything.”

“But—,” I sputtered. “You see, we used to—”  

I stopped talking when I realized my right hand was making a circular motion, as if a visual cue was all that was needed to clear things up. That’s when the realization hit me: There’s a huge—and ever-widening—communications gap between my kids and me.

Take phones. I go to dial a number…wait, I don’t dial anything. I haven’t in years. Have my children ever dialed a number? And whenever I answer the phone, something compels me to ask, “Hello?” as if I have no idea who might be calling, even though Caller ID now informs me of the person’s name. I’ll probably never break that habit, which was ingrained in me during the first few decades of my life. My kids, on the other hand, skip this little charade and often don’t bother with greetings at all, cutting straight to the conversation.

And what about those chunky videotapes I still have boxed up in the basement? My kids probably have no idea how they function or how frustrating they could be. You could load a tape labeled Die Hard, and just as Bruce Willis was about to save the day, the tape would run out. Or worse, Sally Jessy Raphael would burst onto the screen and you’d realize your mom had taped her show over yours.  

Those tapes are relics from my past, yet I persist in asking my kids to “tape” a program for me. (I can’t figure out how to work the remote control and record it for myself.)

Another phrase that has become meaningless to this generation of kids: “Don’t touch that dial!” And rabbit ears? They’ve only seen them on bunnies on TV, not on the TVs themselves.

I was chatting with some friends about this phenomenon, and one of them said he imagines his grown children laughing years from now over good ol’ Dad’s love of his iPad. (I then imagined my friend’s grandchildren asking, “What’s an iPad?” At which point Grandpa would look up from his abacus and chime in, “Ah, that’s the $64,000 question!”)

I’d like to think I wield some control over my kids’ relationships with electronics. I confiscate their gadgets at bedtime just as I’d nab the car keys of a drunk at a party. But the sad truth is that they’re whizzing past me on the electronic highway while I’m still trying to figure out how to program the GPS.

Our kids think pay phones exist only in a Maroon 5 song, and relegate typewriters to the same category as dinosaurs—they may have once roamed freely, but their existence still seems a bit implausible.

In addition to those boxes of old tapes in my basement, I have countless photographs. These are the pictures that didn’t make the photo album cut because someone was shutting his eyes or the shot was blurry or the picture was a near replica of the dozen others I’d taken in hopes of getting just one good shot. Of course, in the old days, I had to wait a week until my prints were developed to know if I’d captured a nice shot. These days, my kids snap a flurry of pictures with my iPhone, then perform plastic surgery on our entire family with the click of a mouse. (Not that I ever ask them to do that. Though I did look great, if I say so myself, in our last holiday photo.)

I have a feeling it’s only going to get worse as technology continues to rocket ahead with our kids at the helm. Phrases are becoming outdated by the day, it seems. Just recently, one of my sons kept asking if he could invite a friend to spend the night.

“You sound like a broken record,” I said.

Sarah Pekkanen’s latest novel is The Best of Us (Washington Square Press, 2013). She can be reached at sarah.pekkanen@bethesdamagazine.com.

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