Journal

Immigrant in My Own Land: A Baby Boomer Crosses the Digital Divide

by | Aug 23, 2016 | Editorial

I am an immigrant. I was born in New York of American parents and have lived in California all of my adult life. So how on earth did I get to be an immigrant? I’ll tell you, but let me state at the outset that I am not alone in this predicament.

I am what is known as a digital immigrant, as opposed to my children, who are natives with some ties to the Old Country, and my grandchildren, who don’t remember the Old Country at all. Let me say also that I take no credit for coining this analogy, but I revel in how brilliant and spot-on it is. I do not, however, revel in my immigrant status. I was born here, after all. My grandparents were the immigrants, not speaking the language and more than slightly befuddled by their new surroundings. My parents were Depression babies, my father a World War II vet. I went to school here. I have a graduate degree, taught high school English for many years and thought I had a perfectly fine command of the language.

Except one day I realized I didn’t. There were whole portions of the language that I didn’t understand. Words like “gigabytes,” “scanning” (when not referring to analyzing the metrical pattern of a line of poetry), “resolution” (when not referring to coming to terms in a conflict), and “link” (when not referring to a bracelet); phrases like “the cloud,” “web surfing” and “social media” (how is it social when you don’t actually talk to people?). Not to mention the plethora of acronyms that seem to trip from the tongues of the digital natives. Things like PDF, URL and SEO. And don’t even get me started on the avalanche of proper nouns that were becoming household words, seemingly everywhere but in my household: Dropbox, Adobe, Safari (when not referring to wild animals), iEverything and Go-Daddy (where do they get these names?). I had not emigrated to a new country. But my country, the world I knew, was turning into a strange land. They call it the digital divide, and for a long time I was on the fossilized side, and quite content to be there, I might add.

I am a poet, writer, calligrapher, pen and ink artist. I sit at my slant board every day like a medieval scribe dipping my fountain pen into ink and happily scratching onto the page. I have long been aware that most writers love their word processors. But I came of age when typewriters meant jammed keys, carbon paper and little eraser wheels with brushes attached. My typing was so illegible that I received special dispensation in graduate school to hand-print my master’s thesis. My fountain pen by contrast has always felt like a natural extension of my hand. I love the feeling of the pen sweeping across the page and the idiosyncratic artistry of handwriting. The movement of my hand is part of my creative process; sometimes the pen knows before the mind what I will write. I discovered fountain pens when I was eight years old and never looked back.

Not all Baby Boomers were like me, of course. Some, like my husband, were early adopters. Way back in the 90’s, before the Internet was ubiquitous, he had a computer. I was never sure what mysterious rites he performed with it, but he seemed wholly enthralled. And as a physician, he had one of the first generation of cell phones. Oh yes, indeed, he did. It was the size of a shoe box and came cradled in its own carrying case. People came from far and near to gaze at this wireless wonder.

Eventually, I joined the modern age enough to own a cell phone. I appreciated the convenience, but had no interest in constantly upgrading to embrace the newest bells and whistles. A flip phone was just fine. And when my husband suggested buying me one of those new mini laptop computers for my birthday, I said I really couldn’t imagine what I would do with it, but I had my eye on a certain pair of earrings instead. The Internet had come into being, and every once in a while I would use my husband’s computer to look something up. But it certainly wasn’t essential to my life. I began to hear about people (my own children) shopping “online,” but I liked stores just fine.

Ironically, it was my brilliant calligraphy teacher and now dear friend, DeAnn Singh of Designing Letters in Los Angeles, who started me on the path of immigration into the digital world. I say “ironically” because DeAnn is a master of the ancient art of calligraphy. Her studio is full of every manner of antique dip fountain pens and ink. She has taught me not only calligraphy but so much of what I know of medieval manuscripts. She has 500 year old vellum specimens; walking into her studio is like stepping back in time. Or is it?

DeAnn, though a few years younger than I, is a sister Baby Boomer, and therefore another digital non-native. I remember early on in our time together how she extolled the virtues of the iPhone and iPad. I had not long before learned to text on my flip phone, much to the astonishment of my children, and I thought that was about as adventurous as I needed to be. I asked her, completely mystified, why she would want all these new-fangled devices. Her answer was one that I’ve never forgotten:

“I don’t want to be left behind.”

And then she showed me a series of absolutely gorgeous copies of medieval manuscript pages. On her iPad. She just pressed a few buttons and there they were! I was astonished. Then she held her phone in the palm of her hand and said, “This little device is a modern day miracle. Do you know what I can do with it, what I can find on it? The phone part of it is just the beginning.”

And that was my beginning. I got an iPhone and my grandchildren fought over who should set it up for me. I got an iPad for my work. Then I learned they could be synced (and I learned what “syncing” is). Then I learned how to buy music from iTunes. I play music as I work and now I could dispense with dozens of CDs and my temperamental CD player and just keep the phone nearby. I learned to create playlists, and, amazingly, I could get songs to repeat in an endless loop! I started taking tons of photos like everyone else in the known universe. I have my favorite translation of Psalms on my phone. And then there’s Dropbox.

A story goes with that. I had once asked my children what “the cloud” was, and though they gamely tried to explain, it was incomprehensible to me. So when DeAnn introduced me to my first art director, Emily Denis, I still thought the cloud was that fluffy white thing that produces rain in places other than Southern California. But as I worked with my fountain pen, hand-lettering and illustrating my verse fairytale, Mindel and the Misfit Dragons, Emily would take page after page and do something mysterious to “clean up” the copy digitally, and scan it into “the cloud.” And somehow, miraculously, before it was ever a hardcover book with pages I could turn, the entire manuscript could be pulled up on my phone in something called a Dropbox app. Mindel has long since become a published book, as has my multi-generational immigrant story, Lily of the Valley, but both live on my phone as well. Emily introduced me to many other marvels, and it’s fair to say that with remarkable forbearance, she pulled me into the 21st Century. She designed my websites, and patiently explained how I now had to produce “content.” Ruby A., my social media and marketing guru, has ever so gently initiated me into the labyrinth of the new media.

As you might have guessed, the entire team at my publishing company, Alcabal Press, LLC, is a generation younger than I. And I realize that like my children and grandchildren, their brains really are different from those of the immigrants. They are much more lateral in their thinking. They are fearless digitally. They are not afraid that if they press the wrong button, a year’s worth of work will disappear. But the technological revolution is forcing everyone to stay on their toes. I know this not only because my eldest granddaughter told me that she has more in common digitally with her parents than with her younger siblings. I also know it because I’ve been to the Apple Store lately.

It used to be that when I went there with a problem, they would tell me to make an appointment with one of their “geniuses.” I knew what that meant and so I started responding, “I don’t need a genius. I need someone who’s bilingual—that is, who speaks Baby Boomer English as well as tech-speak.” Years ago they used to give me pitying looks, but lately I get the feeling they’ve gotten the message, because I’m not the only one, apparently, who found the condescension of the so-called geniuses off-putting. Now I find very respectful, helpful people there. And there’s something else I discovered. It’s not just the Boomers struggling with the digital divide. In my last foray into Apple-land, I overheard three different conversations involving patrons in their 30’s and 40’s saying how confused they were, how everything was changing so fast, how they couldn’t keep up.

This did not give me the satisfaction of misery loves company, but rather supreme gratitude that my work and my family motivated me enough to venture into this new country. I will always be a foreigner, but I am very grateful to have younger generations to guide me. And when no one is available, I have discovered something else. You can Google “How to… almost anything” and there will be a YouTube video to instruct you. Imagine that! And yes, I know what YouTube is, and I use Google as a verb! As I learned back in the day when I was studying Linguistics, language is a living, changing entity.

And so I am changing, too. I still do all my artwork and poetry writing with a fountain pen. That will never change. Those processes for me are too intuitive for any other instrumentation. And yet… And yet… I now have three different devices. Yes, I do. And I use them! I have two websites…I sometimes shop online. … I do some of my research online. I email when necessary. And—dare I admit it?—I have learned to type my Journal entries, such as this very piece. I can actually compose prose with a keyboard! And I am writing my next book, a non-fiction book about The Alchemy of Illuminated Poetry® process which I’ve developed and which I teach, on a keyboard. Yes, dear reader, I am!

And I will admit to no small amount of satisfaction when I surprise a younger family member with some new-found skill. When I sent my very first text years ago, my oldest daughter responded with, “Wow, Mom! Welcome to the 21st Century!” My second daughter was probably my first tech teacher. When my books were still a glimmer in my eye, she suggested I secure domain names with Go-Daddy. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I handed over a credit card in blind faith. And eventually I did begin using those domain names. So imagine my delight when, just recently, I actually showed her what a certain icon meant, and got an “I’m impressed, Mom! You taught me something!” in response.

And then there are the grandchildren, whose skills advance at such a rapid rate as to leave all their elders spinning. But every once in a while, I surprise them. Not too long ago I got a call at 9:00 at night from my middle school granddaughter, who lives across the street.

“Nana, are you still dressed? Can you come over for a few minutes? Please? I have an essay due tomorrow. It’s only three paragraphs, and I only need you to check the grammar. I’ll have a printout for you. I know you like to correct on paper. It’ll be really quick!”

Now, I adore my grandkids and would do anything in my power for them. But I was tired and it was cold out. So I said, “How about if you email it to me, and I’ll print and hand-correct it, then scan it and email it back to you?”

Ah, dear reader, there was a most gratifying silence on the other end of the phone. And then a breathless, “Nana, you know how to do that?”

Oh yes, I do! And one day I’ll learn how to do the corrections right there on the computer on the original email, in a different color to highlight them. Maybe I’ll Google a YouTube video to teach me how.

I am what is known as a digital immigrant, as opposed to my children, who are natives with some ties to the Old Country, and my grandchildren, who don’t remember the Old Country at all. Let me say also that I take no credit for coining this analogy, but I revel in how brilliant and spot-on it is. I do not, however, revel in my immigrant status. I was born here, after all. My grandparents were the immigrants, not speaking the language and more than slightly befuddled by their new surroundings. My parents were Depression babies, my father a World War II vet. I went to school here. I have a graduate degree, taught high school English for many years and thought I had a perfectly fine command of the language.

Except one day I realized I didn’t. There were whole portions of the language that I didn’t understand. Words like “gigabytes,” “scanning” (when not referring to analyzing the metrical pattern of a line of poetry), “resolution” (when not referring to coming to terms in a conflict), and “link” (when not referring to a bracelet); phrases like “the cloud,” “web surfing” and “social media” (how is it social when you don’t actually talk to people?). Not to mention the plethora of acronyms that seem to trip from the tongues of the digital natives. Things like PDF, URL and SEO. And don’t even get me started on the avalanche of proper nouns that were becoming household words, seemingly everywhere but in my household: Dropbox, Adobe, Safari (when not referring to wild animals), iEverything and Go-Daddy (where do they get these names?). I had not emigrated to a new country. But my country, the world I knew, was turning into a strange land. They call it the digital divide, and for a long time I was on the fossilized side, and quite content to be there, I might add.

I am a poet, writer, calligrapher, pen and ink artist. I sit at my slant board every day like a medieval scribe dipping my fountain pen into ink and happily scratching onto the page. I have long been aware that most writers love their word processors. But I came of age when typewriters meant jammed keys, carbon paper and little eraser wheels with brushes attached. My typing was so illegible that I received special dispensation in graduate school to hand-print my master’s thesis. My fountain pen by contrast has always felt like a natural extension of my hand. I love the feeling of the pen sweeping across the page and the idiosyncratic artistry of handwriting. The movement of my hand is part of my creative process; sometimes the pen knows before the mind what I will write. I discovered fountain pens when I was eight years old and never looked back.

Not all Baby Boomers were like me, of course. Some, like my husband, were early adopters. Way back in the 90’s, before the Internet was ubiquitous, he had a computer. I was never sure what mysterious rites he performed with it, but he seemed wholly enthralled. And as a physician, he had one of the first generation of cell phones. Oh yes, indeed, he did. It was the size of a shoe box and came cradled in its own carrying case. People came from far and near to gaze at this wireless wonder.

Eventually, I joined the modern age enough to own a cell phone. I appreciated the convenience, but had no interest in constantly upgrading to embrace the newest bells and whistles. A flip phone was just fine. And when my husband suggested buying me one of those new mini laptop computers for my birthday, I said I really couldn’t imagine what I would do with it, but I had my eye on a certain pair of earrings instead. The Internet had come into being, and every once in a while I would use my husband’s computer to look something up. But it certainly wasn’t essential to my life. I began to hear about people (my own children) shopping “online,” but I liked stores just fine.

Ironically, it was my brilliant calligraphy teacher and now dear friend, DeAnn Singh of Designing Letters in Los Angeles, who started me on the path of immigration into the digital world. I say “ironically” because DeAnn is a master of the ancient art of calligraphy. Her studio is full of every manner of antique dip fountain pens and ink. She has taught me not only calligraphy but so much of what I know of medieval manuscripts. She has 500 year old vellum specimens; walking into her studio is like stepping back in time. Or is it?

DeAnn, though a few years younger than I, is a sister Baby Boomer, and therefore another digital non-native. I remember early on in our time together how she extolled the virtues of the iPhone and iPad. I had not long before learned to text on my flip phone, much to the astonishment of my children, and I thought that was about as adventurous as I needed to be. I asked her, completely mystified, why she would want all these new-fangled devices. Her answer was one that I’ve never forgotten:

“I don’t want to be left behind.”

And then she showed me a series of absolutely gorgeous copies of medieval manuscript pages. On her iPad. She just pressed a few buttons and there they were! I was astonished. Then she held her phone in the palm of her hand and said, “This little device is a modern day miracle. Do you know what I can do with it, what I can find on it? The phone part of it is just the beginning.”

And that was my beginning. I got an iPhone and my grandchildren fought over who should set it up for me. I got an iPad for my work. Then I learned they could be synced (and I learned what “syncing” is). Then I learned how to buy music from iTunes. I play music as I work and now I could dispense with dozens of CDs and my temperamental CD player and just keep the phone nearby. I learned to create playlists, and, amazingly, I could get songs to repeat in an endless loop! I started taking tons of photos like everyone else in the known universe. I have my favorite translation of Psalms on my phone. And then there’s Dropbox.

A story goes with that. I had once asked my children what “the cloud” was, and though they gamely tried to explain, it was incomprehensible to me. So when DeAnn introduced me to my first art director, Emily Denis, I still thought the cloud was that fluffy white thing that produces rain in places other than Southern California. But as I worked with my fountain pen, hand-lettering and illustrating my verse fairytale, Mindel and the Misfit Dragons, Emily would take page after page and do something mysterious to “clean up” the copy digitally, and scan it into “the cloud.” And somehow, miraculously, before it was ever a hardcover book with pages I could turn, the entire manuscript could be pulled up on my phone in something called a Dropbox app. Mindel has long since become a published book, as has my multi-generational immigrant story, Lily of the Valley, but both live on my phone as well. Emily introduced me to many other marvels, and it’s fair to say that with remarkable forbearance, she pulled me into the 21st Century. She designed my websites, and patiently explained how I now had to produce “content.” Ruby A., my social media and marketing guru, has ever so gently initiated me into the labyrinth of the new media.

As you might have guessed, the entire team at my publishing company, Alcabal Press, LLC, is a generation younger than I. And I realize that like my children and grandchildren, their brains really are different from those of the immigrants. They are much more lateral in their thinking. They are fearless digitally. They are not afraid that if they press the wrong button, a year’s worth of work will disappear. But the technological revolution is forcing everyone to stay on their toes. I know this not only because my eldest granddaughter told me that she has more in common digitally with her parents than with her younger siblings. I also know it because I’ve been to the Apple Store lately.

It used to be that when I went there with a problem, they would tell me to make an appointment with one of their “geniuses.” I knew what that meant and so I started responding, “I don’t need a genius. I need someone who’s bilingual—that is, who speaks Baby Boomer English as well as tech-speak.” Years ago they used to give me pitying looks, but lately I get the feeling they’ve gotten the message, because I’m not the only one, apparently, who found the condescension of the so-called geniuses off-putting. Now I find very respectful, helpful people there. And there’s something else I discovered. It’s not just the Boomers struggling with the digital divide. In my last foray into Apple-land, I overheard three different conversations involving patrons in their 30’s and 40’s saying how confused they were, how everything was changing so fast, how they couldn’t keep up.

This did not give me the satisfaction of misery loves company, but rather supreme gratitude that my work and my family motivated me enough to venture into this new country. I will always be a foreigner, but I am very grateful to have younger generations to guide me. And when no one is available, I have discovered something else. You can Google “How to… almost anything” and there will be a YouTube video to instruct you. Imagine that! And yes, I know what YouTube is, and I use Google as a verb! As I learned back in the day when I was studying Linguistics, language is a living, changing entity.

And so I am changing, too. I still do all my artwork and poetry writing with a fountain pen. That will never change. Those processes for me are too intuitive for any other instrumentation. And yet… And yet… I now have three different devices. Yes, I do. And I use them! I have two websites…I sometimes shop online. … I do some of my research online. I email when necessary. And—dare I admit it?—I have learned to type my Journal entries, such as this very piece. I can actually compose prose with a keyboard! And I am writing my next book, a non-fiction book about The Alchemy of Illuminated Poetry® process which I’ve developed and which I teach, on a keyboard. Yes, dear reader, I am!

And I will admit to no small amount of satisfaction when I surprise a younger family member with some new-found skill. When I sent my very first text years ago, my oldest daughter responded with, “Wow, Mom! Welcome to the 21st Century!” My second daughter was probably my first tech teacher. When my books were still a glimmer in my eye, she suggested I secure domain names with Go-Daddy. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I handed over a credit card in blind faith. And eventually I did begin using those domain names. So imagine my delight when, just recently, I actually showed her what a certain icon meant, and got an “I’m impressed, Mom! You taught me something!” in response.

And then there are the grandchildren, whose skills advance at such a rapid rate as to leave all their elders spinning. But every once in a while, I surprise them. Not too long ago I got a call at 9:00 at night from my middle school granddaughter, who lives across the street.

“Nana, are you still dressed? Can you come over for a few minutes? Please? I have an essay due tomorrow. It’s only three paragraphs, and I only need you to check the grammar. I’ll have a printout for you. I know you like to correct on paper. It’ll be really quick!”

Now, I adore my grandkids and would do anything in my power for them. But I was tired and it was cold out. So I said, “How about if you email it to me, and I’ll print and hand-correct it, then scan it and email it back to you?”

Ah, dear reader, there was a most gratifying silence on the other end of the phone. And then a breathless, “Nana, you know how to do that?”

Oh yes, I do! And one day I’ll learn how to do the corrections right there on the computer on the original email, in a different color to highlight them. Maybe I’ll Google a YouTube video to teach me how.

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