“Hello, my name is Jackie, and I used to be afraid of the iPad.”
If a twelve step program existed for people who are addicted to the familiar, I’d be attending meetings every night. Along with my gray hair and reading glasses, I’ve come to realize that what gives away my advancing age most of all is my attitude of avoidance when I have to quickly learn something new. I’m generally not known as someone who eagerly accepts change, and I like to stick to methods and means that are in my comfort zone. I embrace the familiar. I worry about failing. I don’t like to feel stupid. It embarrasses me when I have to ask for the same instructions I just learned the day before to be repeated, since they seemed to have vanished into a pit of short term memory loss. I know I’m not alone in this–in fact, it’s a pretty common trait among people of my generation. My biggest challenge to date was when WRBH made the change to incorporate using iPads to read a lot of the materials used as programming for the station. The electronic leap made perfect sense–they create less waste and save more trees by reducing paper, it’s easy to download all the news and articles found in magazines and journals, and nowadays everything and everyone is online anyway. My problem was that I had no idea how to operate one. The first time I tried, I quickly realized something: iPads tend to make me feel old. Not grown up old, not sophisticated old, not “now I can wear red lipstick whenever I damn well feel like it” old, but the crazy, cranky, doddering kind of old found on countless sitcoms where the ninety-something geriatric character keeps shouting, “In my day, we had books with pages that you turned, not some sort of fancy little flat TV machine that glows in the dark! And dagnabit, you kids stay out of my yard, or I’ll hit you with my cane!” Who wants to be that person? As unfamiliar and off putting as this little device was, I knew I had to get used to it and even embrace it if I was going to conquer my usual fear of change. So I practiced and practiced on the station’s little flotilla of ships into the future, and eventually even grew to love using the iPads enough to eventually buy one for myself. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t empathize with those who are still a little leery of them.
It’s a well known fact that in this era of computers, social media, and electronic devices, the younger the user, the more adept and fearless they are about experimenting with new technology. Baby Boomers like myself remember when appliances used to come with a book of directions, and part of the ritual of acquiring something new was the installation period: things didn’t just get plugged in and enjoyed, there was a distinct learning curve involved. The small how-to instruction booklet became a Bible of sorts, and only after extended study and practice was it put away in a safe spot for future reference, along with the receipt and warranty. In this brave new world, directions are passe–we are supposed to learn by simply doing it. By using it. By leaping headlong into the deep end of the technology pool, without the comforting life preserver of a step-by-step book of instructions. It’s sink or swim without floaties, and sometimes I feel like I’m dog paddling while everyone else is swimming like Ryan Lochte or Michael Phelps.
I’ll give you an example: years ago, we had two eighth graders from Trinity Episcopal School spend some time with us as part of a Career Day program. One of them was a smart, funny kid named James Pfeiffer, and we all had a wonderful time being big radio hotshots by showing him around the station, letting him meet and greet the volunteers, instructing him on simple editing, and finally recording him doing a station ID (“…this is WRBH…New Orleans”). We figured that for a 12 year old, a radio station would be considered a much cooler place to visit than a law firm or a clothing store, so we congratulated young Mr. Pfeiffer on his excellent taste in career choices. And then, amidst all the pats on the back and acknowledgements of our coolness, the automation computer that controls the daily log and broadcasts our signal out to the world went suddenly haywire. It was disastrous! None of the usual fixes were working, we were broadcasting nothing but dead air, we had calls out to tech support and had speed dialed the city’s chief radio engineer Ernie Kain at least ten times in a panic. James observed us turning into the most hysterical, uncool people on the planet and then calmly took charge. Within minutes, he pulled a chair up to the bridge like a young Sulu or Chekhov, and got the starship Enterprise back on course while Kirk and Spock and Bones were running around in circles like decapitated chickens. He was the youngest person in the room, and certainly the savviest when it came to technology. And of course, the most fearless. To James, the computer wasn’t a frightening thing that was out of control–it was just a machine that needed a little tweaking, and he wasn’t afraid to push a few mysterious buttons and try some previously untried remedy to get it working again. After he got it up and running, he reassured us by saying, ‘Don’t worry, you can’t break anything. You can always go back to where you were before.” I’ve never felt so grateful, or so humbled.
I’m reminded of this whenever the iPad inspires trepidation in a volunteer who is much more comfortable reading a regular magazine or book. Just like for me, there comes a time in every reader’s life when Tim suddenly hands them this sleek, intimidating device and says, “Today you’re going to be doing something a little different…” and they begin to quake in their shoes at just the THOUGHT of being alone in a studio with this seemingly delicate, difficult, breakable little machine. My heart goes out to them: after all, there isn’t an instruction booklet to refer to; there are simply a few quick directions on swiping your finger across the screen to turn the page, touching the center and top left corner to find the index and table of contents, and not getting freaked out if you suddenly lose your bearings and the iPad takes you to a place you didn’t want to go. Remember, there isn’t any shame in asking for help once, twice, or ten times–you can always come out of the studio to ask a question and no one will judge you. It’s not going to feel comfortable at first, but I promise that after the first successful reading on the iPad you’ll suddenly feel a little smarter, a little more confident, and even a little younger than before. And don’t we all want to be THAT person?