I don't mind admitting it: I'm a boomer.
I was 39 when I saw my first website. A fact so baffling to a classroom full of middle schoolers, that a boy in the front row asked me, "So how did you get in touch with your friends?"
"We had things called bicycles," I explained, while giving a class on Internet safety. "We'd ride over to our friend's house and ring the doorbell. You guys don't even ring doorbells anymore. You just stand outside and text."
The digital divide across the generations is wide and deep. Time magazine recently devoted a cover article to the way millennials are bringing up their kids, in the full public glare of Facebook, Instagram and mommy blogger sites. Having spent virtually their entire lives online, young parents see every reason to integrate technology into their own kids' lives, even while they are still in utero.
With all the social media presence, comes a good deal of pressure for these new moms and dads to be "perfect" and to photograph and document captivating moments of their tiny tots' lives with just the right filter and snappy caption to maximize their friends' feedback, likes and shares. It can be competitive, exhausting and demoralizing, but the vast majority of millennial parents remain online - the rewards still outweighing the downsides.
But for most boomers, technology remains a matter of constantly catching up. Tweens and teens tell me they know the Internet better than their parents, which is not surprising. One high school student went so far as to tell me that his mom doesn't even know how to switch the computer on. Basic computer skills remain just out of reach for many of the Woodstock generation.
Case in point. I have a good friend, same age as me, who is not on social media, but his wife is very active on Facebook. She sent out one of those, "DO NOT SHARE, but copy and paste this message into your page" messages to all her friends. What followed would have been funny if it wasn't so sad.
Comment after comment came in explaining, rather sadly, how they didn't know how to copy and paste, but still enjoyed reading her posts. One attempted a smiley face, but got the eyes wrong.
Faced with all this generational ineptitude, I simply went to YouTube and searched on "how to copy and paste" and found enough instructional videos to last a lifetime. I copied and pasted the first URL I found into the comments of my friend's wife's post. New comments appeared thanking me for showing them how to do this basic tech task.
Of course, there are many in my (aging) generation that know a thing or two about digital devices and all the wild and wacky apps that come along with them. The Washington Post together with the AARP held a Booming Tech forum to show off all the many ways older folks have integrated technology into their lives. The Post goes so far as to claim that boomers are "shaping the future of technology" through our use of fitness trackers, health devices and communication services.
Joseph Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says, "This notion that older adults don't love technology--that's not on older adults, that's bad technology." Further, this demographic, which makes up the majority of the U.S. population, has the cash to spend on iPads, cars with on-board computers and wearables.
So which is it? Are boomers the vanguard of our digital age or hopelessly at a loss compared to millennials with their tablet-toting two year-olds?
The truth, as ever, lies somewhere in the middle. It's not unusual to find a sixty-something year old man who is clueless when it comes to downloading an app or paying bills online whereas his wife is perfectly capable of blogging, uploading videos to YouTube and Facetiming with the kids. Or vice versa.
What is true is that we are the last generation that will know a time before the web. We were born into an analog world - one with just three or four TV stations - and we will depart this digital world with an Apple Watch on one wrist and Fitbit on the other. We may not know how to copy and paste, but we'll surely figure out how to Skype the grandkids.
This and many other topics will be covered in the Family Online Safety Institute 2015 Annual Conference to be held in Washington, DC on November 17 & 18. More information can be found here.