Virulent Word of Mouse

December 22, 2009

The Internet and magic moments of parental middle age

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Online behavior,Short observations — Shane Greenstein @ 12:45 pm

What do light bulbs, iTunes, and printer cartridges have in common? These all relate to magic moments of parenthood. This requires explanation.

Look, there are many magic moments in middle aged parenthood. Today I would like to mention one type of such moment — call it a moment of “equal altitude.”

This label comes from an old school riddle: If one person starts at the top of a mountain and walks down while another starts at the bottom and walks up, will there ever be a moment in which both are at the same altitude? The answer is “yes”, as long as neither is too slow.

Parenting is full of such moments, that is, magic moments in which the parent’s and child’s skill reach the same altitude. This occurs when a child’s skill rises to just a place where it equals a parents skill, which has declined to the same place.

Credit for noticing this type of moment goes to my older brother. A few years ago he noticed that he and his son ran at the same speed. As my brother put it, his running skills deteriorated while his son’s improved. For a short time they could run together. Now his son is faster.

I see the same thing happening in my family. For the moment I remain faster than my son, but this surely will not last.

What does this have to do with IT? As it turns out, there are many magic moments of equal altitude in the modern Internet. This post highlights a few of them. Would you like to suggest more?

Equal altitude moments in IT

Surfing the Internet takes skill. Magic moments of equal altitude on the Internet arise in the areas in which a child’s skills rise while a parent’s skills decline. There are many such areas online.

Let me illustrate from my own experience. My older son and I both use the Internet. Though I am quite experienced with the Internet, my skills were forged in the mid 1990s. My son’s skills were forged over the last few years. His are getting better while mine are, well, getting worse.

More precisely, as the Internet has evolved my skills are becoming increasingly obsolete. Any reader with finely honed skills using Gopher will know exactly what I mean.

(Look, if you do not know what Gopher is… Gopher was the predominant search tool of the Internet before the rise of the World Wide Web….and… Oh, never mind, Just look it up on Wikipedia.)

More to the point, the Internet has had a way of throwing up new fun platforms every few months. Now and again, a few of them have caught on. Even my kids use them. Now and again I use some of them too. Sometimes I teach my children, and, if I dare, sometimes they teach me.

A quick inventory of common experiences shows how prevalent are equal altitude moments in the modern Internet. Here are a few from my own experience:

Places of equality today:

* My oldest son and I have about the same skills at searching You-Tube, but his abilities will soon exceed mine.

* My oldest son and I text at about the same skill level — which is to say, neither of us is particularly facile.

This will not last, of course. While Soccer Mom messaging is a part of my parental life, texting is an even bigger part of teenage life today. Experience teaches a range of abbreviations and slang terms. Judging from the skills of older nieces and nephews, soon my children will be online texting quite frequently, and their skills should pass mine.

Places where my kids have better skills:

* My oldest son and I had the same skills on when he was about eight years old. His skills on that site have increased since then. He is quite experienced. He can build all kinds of virtual things. His skills surpassed mine long ago.

* My oldest daughter and son have developed better skills on iTunes than I possess. It is just obvious why — iTunes gift cards have become the default all-purpose gift for any teenager. As a result, they roam the site much more than I do.

* My three oldest children have developed better skills on virtually every game on the Wii.

Places where I have better skills than my kids:

There are a couple areas where my skills exceed theirs, but it is only a matter of time before we reach equal altitudes.

* My skills searching Wikipedia far exceed any of my kids’.

* When my kids need an image for a school report, my skills at finding images online still exceed my kid’s skills at doing the same.

(In both cases skill at searching comes from experience, and I do not expect my skill to exceed my child’s for much longer.)

* I am still better at fixing printer problems than anyone else in my household. (Sarcasm alert: I will take my victories where I can get them.)

Parting thoughts on equal altitudes

I am not trying to say anything profound. Some of the magic moments of equal altitude have shifted to the  Internet. That signals a mild shift in the archetypes of the human life-cycle. As with other aspects of the human experience, the Internet has begun to infiltrate the renewal of life. So it goes.

Still, it differs from the past. My grandparents would find the experience foreign even though the concepts would be familiar. That means the reference points for modern society are changing. It is interesting to catalog these new reference points.

More to the point, in the past these archetypes were easy to recall. I still recall the day (as a teenager) I could reach something in a high cabinet that my parents could not. There was something special about the first day my brother (as a teenager) shot a better golf score than my father, and we all recall that day for a reason. And there will  be something special the first day my children (perhaps as adults) change a light bulb in a high place.

Will there be something special when we pass each other in the realm of IT?

Knowing how to search on Wikipedia seems to be a modern skill. Knowing how to judge the authority of its information takes considerable experience. I expect I might retain the lead on this one for a while. I do not expect us to pass each other soon, but — for certain! — I will be proud of them when they do not need me any longer.

Texting is another matter. Will the kids pass me soon? Almost certainly.Will I get sentimental the day my son shows me a new abbreviation for texting? Um, probably not.

What have you experienced? I would like to hear. If you happen upon this post, drop me a comment.

While pondering that question, take a look at this recent comic strip from Zits about parents asking children for help on Facebook. My son saw it first and thought it was funny. He showed it to me, and I concur.

Hmmm, for a brief moment, it appears my son’s sense of humor overlaps with mine. This cannot last. His sense is becoming more sophisticated, while mine is, well, becoming obsolete. I think I will enjoy this moment while it lasts.


  1. Great post!
    Sort of off topic from your main idea but to your comment about your skills searching:
    Finding specific information online (i.e. “googling”, and I’m talking about finding answers to specific questions, solutions to problems etc not just random casual searching) is definitely one of the most important skills of our time.

    I work in Information Systems and I see a disturbingly large number professionals (even IT pros!) whose “googling” skills are not up to par. As you say, this skill increases with experience, but I would definitely encourage you to coach your children and help them improve as it could easily give them a leg up in their future careers. Some level of understanding of the underlying logic behind the query engine can be helpful: and

    I wonder if some games like “I’ll get you ice cream if you can find the answer to X online” might encourage development of this skill as well…

    Comment by ely — December 23, 2009 @ 5:03 pm | Reply

  2. Phew! What an article to read by the end of year 2009….the arcane headline became very crystal clear after reading your thoughts and experiences…really enjoyed reading…

    Comment by Abhishek Jha — December 25, 2009 @ 9:57 am | Reply

  3. Great idea, thanks for this tip!

    Comment by online σύστημα ρουλέτας — January 10, 2010 @ 1:03 pm | Reply

  4. light bulbs are good for lighting the home but stay away from incandescent lamps because they generate so much heat -*’

    Comment by Metallic Sandals — November 16, 2010 @ 6:57 pm | Reply

  5. Nice and helpful info. My goal is to subscribe your web site. Thnx. continue the good perform

    Comment by Cuthbert — September 10, 2011 @ 3:21 pm | Reply

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