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The International Writers Magazine
: Lifestyles of single mothers and sons

Techno prisoner
Andrea Wren on rewinding DVDs and the wonders of 8 Track...

I always thought that, for a mother (and, dare I say it, for a female), I was fairly well up on ‘technological stuff’. I did my gender favours by being able to programme the video recorder to tape Friends at the right time, give or take a few adverts. I could even set the radio stations on the car stereo. I thought I was a super dooper, bordering on becoming a nuclear physics, Techno Queen. I was settling into this Perfect Vision of myself, then my son superseded me, at a rate that was surely faster than the speed of light (though he could proclaim the mathematical details of that with far more certainty than me).

He started with Meccano, and progressed to taking the PC motherboard apart and putting it back together again in the time it took me to open the milk carton. When there is a growing young science wizard sharing the same living space as you, soaking up all knowledge that is available (from the microwave programming manual to the instruction booklet on ‘How to Build Your Own Weapon Of Mass Destruction in 30 Days’ - he did it in 20) and taking every opportunity to practice his wizardry skills, then your eye for the TV tuning mechanism starts to go blind. You become lazy. There is absolutely no need for you to even pick up the new shiny little pamphlet that arrives with the DVD player, because before you can say “multimedia messaging”, your Knight in System Restore Armour has set it up, plugged it in, turned it on and is watching Finding Nemo with glib satisfaction.

I can safely say that my technological talents have now become defunct. This means that any new purchase, which requires more than the putting in of batteries, is handed over to my son for his all-knowing eye to be cast over. In the space of a nanosecond, he’s telling me how I can turn it on without inducing power failure throughout all the appliances in my house. I sit there, with my proudly acquired knowledge of programming VHS fading away into the Ethernet as the newer, better, shinier, more advanced models of machines take over our domestic bliss. A wasteland of old devices, sadly obsolete, mounts as the new developments fill their place. As for me? It seems I’m sadly obsolete as well.

My son is empowered (and enraged) as I flail with the remote control and ask feebly how to get the film to rewind. “You don’t rewind DVDs mum...” he says, and I’m lost as he begins some techno warble that means absolutely nothing to me, the once apt and skilled video programmer, floundering in my days of floppy disks and cassette tape. It’s my fault, of course, I was much more concerned with allowing him to eagerly do all the work while I got on with far more interesting things, like reading the latest glossy. His keenness for learning, and his ease with the way we’re moving at neck-breaking speed into automaton society, meant less of a need for me to have the hassle of reading the operating instructions.

Is it Single Mum & Son Syndrome, that I’ve relied so heavily on my only offspring for the things that [possibly] his dad would have done? If I’d have had a daughter, I’m certain the situation would be the same. The issue is not that he is a ‘substitute male’, but that I am an ‘outdated oldie’. At 34 years of age, I’m loath to call myself old, but it seems that technology is zipping by me and past me before I’ve had a chance to blink. And that I don’t quite catch what’s going on in the split second of that blink, is what leaves me feeling like it’s time to take a bow and leave the 21st century stage. Yet my son, he doesn’t miss a techno trick. His capacity for circuit board circumnavigation is colossal. I like to think we’re a team - I wash his clothes, cook his tea and nag him to clean his room (of the disks, gadgets, fidgety bits and fiddly things that are scattered around it) and he defrags my hard drive. It’s a fair deal, I think.

Of course, there will be a time when my son leaves home. What will I do? I’ll be so behind the door on the advancements of today (and tomorrow) that the damn appliances won’t even get used - they’ll surely have some voice activated power-on mechanism that you have to programme in to begin with? Many parents, no doubt, will relate to the way their kids can reel off Windows operating systems like they’re reading a pizza place menu. You’re proud; it’s just so cool how great they are at doing all that difficult techno stuff. But remember, the more they do, the less you can, and you can’t make them stay at home forever just because they’re the only ones that can work out how to use the digital camera (can you?). Maybe we should think about reclaiming our MP3 player manuals and reacquainting ourselves with the remote, before it’s too late? At the rate we’re going, when my son leaves home, I estimate I’ll have at least 15 years of science school to attend before I can vacuum up the living room again.
© Andrea Wren June 2004

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