I committed financial hara-kiri last November by retiring at 62. A major reason for my decision to retire early was that over time my job had disappeared through the looking-glass and into the digital world. A world in which I function about as well as a duck in medical school.
I’m not entirely sure why I can’t work with computers, or why every single young person in the office is a whiz with them. But I think it comes down to the fact that the common sense I developed by living in the analog world for 62 years doesn’t mean much in the digital world. There, a different common sense with different rules prevails. Those rules are apparently learned while playing with a laptop in your playpen. Those same rules are incomprehensible to many of us who played with Lincoln Logs in our playpens. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, roughly one-third of internet users ages 65 and over describe themselves as only a little (23%) or not at all (11%) confident in their ability to use electronic devices to do necessary online activities.
We Lincoln Loggers get lost in the virtual world. No matter how carefully we proceed, we keep running into digital dead ends. And we respond to them by backing up and repeating minor variations of our mistake over and over again in the vain hope of proving Einstein wrong who defined insanity as doing precisely that.
So, in desperation, Lincoln Loggers call IT for help. We can practically hear their eyes roll over the phone when they realize it’s one of us. And as always, with more than a hint of exasperation in their voice, they offer an easy, two-step solution that instantly sets us right. To them, it’s simple and obvious and mundane. To us, it’s as though they pulled the Empire State Building out of a top hat.
On the days we can’t bear any more IT attitude, we waylay a passing young person and describe the problem as offhandedly as possible. And they, too, intuitively know what keys to push. When we ask how they knew what to do, they invariably answer, “Just play with it.”
Just play with it? Are you kidding me? Just play with it? I was on the verge of bitter, hair-pulling, head-banging tears of frustration after wasting a miserable hour struggling to figure it out, and young people regard that as playing? PLAYING? There’s no better illustration of the two different playpens theory than that.
But last year was the worst; our employee evaluation software refused to cooperate with me. Desperate to appear at least somewhat competent to my already dubious boss, I spent a frantic hour trying everything I could think of to submit my self-evaluation form, but each thing I tried lured me down one digital blind alley after another. Finally, my young boss came by and asked how the form was coming.
“Oh, I just happen to be looking at that,” I replied airily, “but I’m a little stuck.”
He reached over my shoulder, clicked on something, and instantly submitted my form.
Staggered by the brute power of Darwinian forces, I gulped loudly. He smiled down at me in the same hopeless way Sister Paula did while she was laboring to teach me long division.
From that moment on, I might as well have worn a beanie with a propeller on it at work.
It’s obvious to all Lincoln Loggers that Silicon Valley could care less about the culling of many of us from the workforce due to our digital ineptitude. We thought their goal was to make computers more intuitive and user friendly; that nerdy secret computer handshakes were on the way out and breezy, Star Trek-like interaction with normal people was the wave of the future. Instead, user hostility and nerdiness are at an all-time high.
Someone needs to tackle Apple, Microsoft, et al. and explain that a significant percentage of a large and formerly super-productive segment of the workforce is being forced out. They need to be told that older workers’ productivity is diminishing because they share IT’s eye-rolling attitude toward our digital struggles. Everyone who works knows this ageist digital divide exists, but it’s treated as quaint, acceptable collateral damage from society’s inevitable march toward a glorious digital future.The fact that computers enhance younger workers’ productivity and reduce many older workers’ is fundamentally unfair and needs to be addressed. And to that end, I have a suggestion. I hereby and herewith volunteer for Silicon Valley’s first Lincoln Logger Board, which will review any work-related software for the presence of digital dead ends and virtual blind spots. Thanks to you tech geniuses, I’ve got tons of time on my hands.