Boomers, Computers and Progress

Boomers, Computers and Progress

February 20, 2020 Off By Tammy Schneider

My first job was at McDonalds when I was 15 years old. We had no computers or cash registers. We were armed with a pencil and an order pad with a cash drawer under the counter. We wrote out the order and the amounts, then calculated the total with the sales tax. Yes, without a calculator or a computer we could add, subtract, and multiply. Good thing we had to memorize all of those “multiplication tables!”

We also did the impossible, we counted back the change! The kids that work at McDonalds now don’t need any of this. They look at the picture on the keys and the computerized register does all of the work. They don’t even need to read, just know what each item looks like. The computer even counts the change! Have you ever handed the cashier a penny after he/she has entered the cash tendered amount? If you have, then you have probably noticed the confused dazed look of fright that comes over the cashier. You have also most likely had to tell them how much change to give you.

Remember how exciting it was when VCRs came out and we no longer needed to miss those movies or shows we wanted to see? Remember the flashing light on the front that the instruction manual failed to clearly tell us how to correct? Most of us were so threatened by new technology that we enlisted our teenagers to resolve those flashing light issues. Isn’t it amazing how quickly they were able to just instinctively know how to handle the things that stumped us!

Speaking of finding information, remember those encyclopedias that took up half the room? When we didn’t know the answer to something, we looked it up in books or asked our parents and grandparents. Even during our adolescent rebellions when we knew our parents were clueless, they sometimes had answers we could accept. Now every piece of information known to man is at our fingertips on the internet. Our entire problem solving process transitioned to computers and all but eliminated jobs for those encyclopedia sales people. Have we kept up? When you have a question or need information is the computer the first thing you think of? Chances are if you are a “boomer” it isn’t, we still tend to go to the familiar books first.

I even remember that we watched television without a remote control. We had to get up, walk to the TV, and actually turn the knob to change the channel or volume. Can you believe that? I still don’t know what all of those remote buttons do. Think of all of the things that we have once depended upon and later watched them become extinct. Things like carbon paper for example were once a staple item and now have very little value or usefulness.

I remember back in the early 1990s when the typewriter on my desk was replaced with a computer. I was warned that our company was going to start issuing computers to everyone and then it happened. I came in the next morning and stared at that big monstrosity and trembled as I thought about pushing the on button. What if I pushed the wrong button and it exploded on my desk! I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, crossed my fingers, and then I did the un-thinkable, I joined the tech savvy crowd and turned on my first computer. That was easy enough but what was I supposed to do next? I had no idea how to even type up a memo or send an email. I didn’t even know how to use the “help” feature. I was in luck though because I had a teenager at home! She had already solved the VCR issues so I knew what I needed to do.

I went to the store and bought a computer. My daughter came to my rescue and hooked it all up for me and then started teaching me how to use it. It was actually a good bonding time and fed her beliefs that she knew more than I did. Little by little she helped me learn to use my computer and now I can’t imagine working without one. I don’t know how we managed. In workplaces today, there are untold numbers of people that use the computer 100% of their day. We don’t even need filing cabinets any longer! When a storm knocks out the power, there is nothing to do except maybe dust our keyboards.

My 30 year old daughter helps individuals with computer issues as a side job. She is still amazed at how many of us are so threatened and/or clueless about computers. I still find myself going to her for answers impulsively rather than just using google. I thought the process of finding answers to questions was more difficult than it actually is. Then I watched her open google and then type in “how do you get red Kool-aid out of carpet?” She had the answer in seconds. I would have likely tried something like “carpet care” and had to wade through pages and pages of search results.

Recently I received an email from another boomer friend warning of a deadly computer virus that would wipe out our hard drives and send the same virus to everyone in our address book. Being the good friend that I am I sent the warning to everyone I know, including my computer geek daughter. I was fearful that I would lose tremendous amounts of information that I have stored on my computer. Immediately my geek kid sent me a response informing that the virus warning was an old hoax and that there was nothing to fear. She attached a link to a website that can help us discern what is truth or fiction. The website is 1) Imagine that, we can even discern truth or fiction by going on-line. This is yet another example of how I think like a boomer instead of a technologically evolved person. This was also another opportunity for my daughter to laugh at how “old” I am.

I of course explained to her that we boomers are just fearful of all things computer that we don’t fully understand. Although it is no longer terrifying to turn on my pc and I have learned how to use the “help” function and the wonderful “undo” button, I am still easily rattled when I get these “a virus is coming” emails or need to do something new. I know of CEOs that still don’t have computers at their desks. They are not keeping up with the times as much as they think they are. According to the article 2) “Diagnosis: Internet Phobia” in the April 25, 2005 issue of Newsweek on page 74 Nadine Joseph and Brad Stone reported that “fewer than 31% of seniors older than 65 have ventured online, compared with more than two thirds of the younger baby boomers, 50 to 64. Of seniors older than 65 whose annual household income is less than $20,000 a year, an even slighter 15% have gone online.” According to the website 3) 63% of boomers aged 55 – 64 have computers in their homes and of those over 65 years old only 34% do. These statistics taken from the 2005 US Census Bureau also report that 62% of all households have computers. I imagine future statistics will show the numbers are still growing in boomer households. Progress is “booming” and boomers need to embrace it!

2) Diagnosis: Internet Phobia in the April 25, 2005 issue of Newsweek on page 74 written by Nadine Joseph and Brad Stone