If you believe what the media tells you -- and I am not for a moment suggesting that you should -- every generation has a designated name or letter. We have the Baby Boomers and Generation X. We have Gen Y and Generation What's-With-All-The-Neckbeards-And-The-Plaid. According to my research, the media has dubbed my generation, those in their 40s and 50s, the Sandwich Generation, primarily because, after the most recent economic meltdown, that's pretty much all there will be left to eat. I'm sorry, I read that wrong; we're the Sandwich Generation because people are living longer and we are sandwiched between caring for our elderly parents and raising our children at the same time.
But it goes further than that; I belong to what I am officially dubbing the Technology Sandwich Generation, which started when the first parents called upon their teenagers to help them program their new-fangled VCRs, and which will rear its head every time those teenagers grow up to have families of their own. That'll teach them to make fun of us for not knowing where the DVR button is on the remote.
We have the distinction of being the sandwich spread between elderly relatives who are confused by the technology that now runs our lives, but who want to learn just enough to be dangerous, and the small, alien life forms who reside in our households, who not only know how to download porn to the DVR, but also how to keep us from finding it and grounding them for doing such a bad, bad, inappropriate thing.
I should probably mention at this point that I am the product of a mixed marriage: My father is a technological early adopter and my mother is a devout Luddite.
The method in which new technology is welcomed into my parents' home has not changed much since I was a child. The way it works is like this: A new technology is announced, and my father immediately goes out and buys one or more of whatever it is, just so he can say to his friends, "Oh sure, I bought one of those when they first came out. Of course, they don't make 'em like that anymore . . ." He then magnanimously bestows one of the said technological wonders that will change both of their lives forever on my mother, who promptly "forgets" where she put it, mainly so she doesn't have to learn how to use it.
This triggers the phone calls to me. The first call is the paternal Discussion About Why Your Mother Doesn't Appreciate How I'm Trying To Make Her Life Better, followed immediately by the maternal I Stopped Listening To Him Ages Ago Because I Also Refuse To Wear My Hearing Aids Rebuttal. While all of this is going on, my children have re-wired all of the TVs in the house to receive free HBO (Ha ha! Just kidding, HBO. Please don't arrest me.)
Occasionally, I'm called upon to actually get my mother up and running on a new device, though her approach is considerably more passive-aggressive. Phone conversations with my mother all follow the same basic arc, starting with a Formal Introduction as if she was a telemarketer, transitioning smoothly into the Guilt Portion and then plunging rapidly into Confusion.
Mom: Hello, dear. This is your mother speaking.
Me: Hi Mom. How are you?
Mom: I'm fine; I just hope you weren't worried about me.
Me: Why would I have been worried? Is everything OK?
Mom: Well, you didn't hear from me for a few days . . .
Me: (now legitimately concerned): What happened? Is Dad OK?
Mom: Oh yes. He decided I needed a new cell phone, so he bought me another one. It's so complicated. I don't know what any of the buttons do.
Me: Well, what kind of phone is it?
Mom: You know. The same as my refrigerator.
I consider this to be a successful phone call with my mother because, despite the confusion, I've ascertained a few key pieces of information:
1. Nobody in my immediate family has died,
2. My mother has a new cell phone that appears to resemble her refrigerator, and
3. Odds are good that my parents are not currently talking to one another, which actually gives me time to help my mother.
We chat for awhile and I ask the questions that are necessary to talk my mother off the proverbial ledge, but which would make anyone listening to the conversation believe that we are mentally deranged: Exactly how big is this cellphone? Are there actual ice cubes coming out of it? Because that would mean that you are, in fact, talking into your refrigerator, mom.
While all of this is taking place, I log on to my computer and find that I now have a free, lifetime subscription to Netflix, thanks to my kids. As my mom and I make a date to go into this at more length after the kids are in bed, I make a mental note to speak to them about why it's wrong to hijack content off the Internet.
Later on I change my mind. They could be doing a lot worse. And some day it will be their turn to be in the middle, when their kids are running wild on the Internet and I need them to help me figure out which buttons to push. That's punishment enough.