The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 30, 2009


Never mind tech support – I’ll just ask my kids

Every December, my husband and I host a holiday party for a nonprofit board on which I sit. I’ve learned to plan carefully to cover for any circumstance. Extra ice and paper goods. Guest soaps in the bathroom. Backup corkscrews in case we misplace one.

But it turned out I wasn’t quite as well-prepared a host as I thought. Last year, the rest of my family had to leave during the party to attend another event, and I was caught short when a guest asked if I could please put on the Patriots game in the family room. I looked helplessly at the remote control that came with our new TV. “It’s not that I don’t know how to turn on the TV; I just have no idea how to change the channel,” I admitted. With my children out of the house as well as my husband, I was useless in this regard.

I know I’m not the only parent who relies on her children for help with technology. Both my ten-year-old and my six-year-old are better than I am at everything from finding the lunch menu on their school’s website to downloading games onto my cell phone. They taught me how to back up the playlists on my iPod and served as my technology consultants when I wasn’t sure whether it was accurate to describe Dance Dance Revolution as a Wii game in a recent article I was drafting.

I’d like to think their expertise will make them more marketable in their future careers, but I realize many of their peers have the very same skills they do if not even more sophisticated ones. Still, my experience in the workplace thus far has been that the IT guys are always in highest demand, so I’m hoping their strengths in this area continue to grow. Never mind the CEO or chief legal counsel; it’s the help desk folks you need when things are going badly at work.

Not long ago, at a fundraising auction for our school, I was checking in guests as they arrived at the lobby entrance to the banquet hall. Midway through the event, a man whom I recognized as a senior executive at a large high tech company hurried out into the lobby to answer his cell phone, his wife at his side.

Listening to his end of the conversation, I could picture the whole scenario, because every company I’ve ever worked at has followed the tradition of making major upgrades to the computer system on Friday nights, when the building is empty except for the hardworking IT guys, who stay on these occasions and work long after everyone else’s weekend fun had begun. As I eavesdropped, I wondered whether this executive’s IT underlings knew their boss was dressed in semi-formal wear, standing with a martini in hand outside a bustling banquet hall with a live band playing while they toiled into the night.

“Yeah, I noticed that the system was running slowly today and there were some bugs cropping up,” he said impatiently, clearly anxious to get back into the party. “So you think the answer is to bring the whole server down? What about first splicing the router? You already tried that? Well, yes, I guess you could do a massive reboot at the mainframe. Just be sure you’ve executed two encrypted back-ups to the system first, and clear the cache before you restart. Yes, I suppose that’s probably the best way to repair the network at this point. Let’s just hope it doesn’t corrupt any alias files.”

He sighed and then said in a much brighter tone, “Have a good evening and go to bed when the babysitter tells you to. Do you want to say hi to Mommy?”

The experience served as a comforting if extreme reminder that it’s not just me. Everyone’s kids know more about technology than they do. Someday I’ll be telling my grandchildren about how when I was in my 40’s, there was only one TV channel, and you either watched what it was airing or nothing at all. They might suspect my account to be historically inaccurate, but perhaps they’ll understand that what I really mean is that I can watch only one channel because I don’t know how to change the TV to any others.

And besides, I’m part of the sandwich generation. I still look clever and able compared to some. While my kids are creating smartlists on my iPod for me and writing HTML code so that they can launch their own website, I’m getting phone calls from my parents, who fortunately live next door. “Dad and I are trying to use Microsoft Word and the margins are too narrow,” my mother says. “Can you come fix them?”

File, page layout, change margins. That I know how to do. The key to feeling technologically savvy is simple, I’ve decided: just make sure there’s always someone nearby whose skills are just a bit weaker. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito