Staying Connected: How Technology Can Make (or Break) a Family
Staying connected with your loved ones as you move through different phases of life remains a top priority for most families. We all want to share the good and the bad, laugh at inside jokes, and know what’s going on in each other’s lives.
As the daughter of an 83-year-old mother — and a parent of two tech-wise 20-somethings — I straddle the time periods between using manual typewriters and rotary phones to communicate and Wi-Fi and cellphones to stay connected.
Total transparency: It’s full of land mines on both sides.
I don’t want to feed into the stereotype about older people struggling to grasp technology, especially since I am one of those older people. (“Hi, my name is Lisa and I’m a technophobe.”) However, let’s just say that it’s been a bit of a struggle to adapt and bridge the communication gap among several generations.
Let me set the stage, starting with my mom, who’s relatively active and healthy for a woman in her 80s. (She also has fewer gray hairs than I do — so not fair.) Anyway, we talk every day, which I love.
Recently, Mom left me a voicemail reminding me about getting together for coffee on Friday. Then she emailed me a link to an article about James Dean. Then she sent me a job lead via Facebook Messenger to share with my son, who’s looking for a graphic designer job. Then she texted me 14 photos of her newly painted kitchen cabinets. Then she sent me a gardening post (again through Messenger) from one of the many private groups she’s in. Then she sent me an invite to the private air fryer group she’s in on Facebook. (FYI: I do not own an air fryer.) This all happened in the course of a couple hours.
Since I was busy working all day, I hadn’t yet been able to catch up on all my texts, emails, and voicemails. And, in truth, when I do finally check all my various messages and see that there are no emergencies, I might not get around to reading everything until later that night or the next day. A call from the ER gets my immediate attention. A texted photo collage of a cabinet makeover does not.
Later, on the phone, my mom asks, “Did you get my message?”
I reply, “Which one?”
“The one with the link,” she says.
“What was the link about?” I ask.
“A vegetarian recipe,” she replies, knowing that I eat a lot of plant-based meals. Aw, how thoughtful!
When I say I don’t remember getting a text with a recipe link, I sense her irritation kicking in.
“Well, I know I sent it,” she says, getting a bit defensive.
“OK, let me look for it, Mom. Maybe I missed it,” I reply.
So, while we’re still on the phone together, I scroll through days of our text threads, with no recipe in sight. When I suggest that — perhaps, just perhaps — she sent the link through email or Messenger, she adamantly denies it, like I had just accused her of committing tax fraud or something. To appease her, I conduct an exhaustive search, in real time, of all the messages she sent me over the past few days on various devices and platforms. Still nothing.
“Oh, here it is!” she says. She’d cut the recipe out of the newspaper to give to me when we meet for coffee. It was attached to her fridge with an Elvis magnet. Luckily, she can’t see my face palm.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, a similar but different communication struggle unfolds with my young adult sons (21 and 24), who both still live at home.
“Dinner!” I yell upstairs, trying to call everyone to the table. Repeatedly. After three attempts, I text them and they’re in the kitchen in seconds.
“Why didn’t you come down when I called you — three times?” I ask, irritated.
“I had earbuds in,” they both respond, practically in unison.
Ugh. We’ve turned into that family. We’re in the same house, but everyone is doing their own thing, both boys on screens. To communicate in the most efficient (though impersonal) manner, we regularly text each other — even though we’re only about 30 feet apart.
Can you take the garbage out?
What time is dinner?
Does anyone want to watch Blackish?
Did anyone feed the cats yet?
Can someone answer the front door? I’m still in my pajamas.
Anyway, at dinner, my younger son starts talking about the latest meme he thinks is hilarious. (Full disclosure: It may or may not have taken me a year or two after memes became “a thing” to fully understand what the heck a meme actually was.) To show me said meme, my quick-draw son whips out his phone like a cowboy in an old-fashioned Western showdown.
“I don’t get it,” I say, trying to find the funny in what seems like sheer stupidity to me.
“You’re such a Boomer!” my son replies. (Just what every parent loves to hear.)
No matter how hard we try to connect and share our lives with each other, tech missteps happen on a regular basis with our entire family. And don’t even get me started on my husband’s attempts to mansplain why Alexa doesn’t recognize my voice most of the time.
This struggle is real, folks.