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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Measuring Global Trends with Mom

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer
E-Mail: WillWalsh@aol

I have a confession to make. Sometimes, as I try to figure out global trends in technology and media, I look very close to home. As a matter of fact, I sometimes I look at my mother. Mom has been led (not kicking and screaming, exactly, but led nonetheless) into the technological world of the 90's by her kids (including me) who have gradually presented her with stuff she never wanted (but now finds nearly essential).

Let me make this clear: Mom is not a technophobe. She never FEARED technology. She was more "techno-apathetic." Didn't want it. Didn't need it. Wouldn't know what to do with it even if she had it. She was getting along fine with the stuff she was used to. And it's interesting (and perhaps even illustrative) to watch her gradual immersion into the media world of the 1990's. (I'm sure she won't mind my using her as an example. After all, she's probably used ME as an example - of both what to do and what NOT to do - with my brothers and sisters!)

Years ago it started with a microwave (not media, but certainly a technological development). We kids tried to "sound her out" about whether she'd like or even use one.

"Oh, no! Of course not! I don't need a microwave. Don't want one. I'm fine with my stove. I haven't got the slightest interest in microwave ovens. No, really."

As kids often do, we ignored her and got her one anyway. Today she says that she loves it, uses it every day, and would be lost without it. In fact, she told me just last week, "I NEED my microwave. If it broke today, I'd have a new one by tomorrow."

It's that way with lots of things, I think. Technology which starts out as a frill or as a "unnecessary luxury" rapidly becomes not only comfortable, but essential. My mother is just an example of this principle in action. Each "intrusion" of technology into her home was met at first with mild resistance . . . until the particular item became useful.

A couple of years ago we tried to get her to subscribe to cable TV by telling her all the great stuff that was on.

"Oh, no! I don't need cable! Don't want it. I don't need all those channels. I'm not interested in most of that stuff. I do just fine with Channels 2, 4, 5, and 7."

We got her cable as a Christmas present that year, and now she tells me that she can't imagine not having it. She watches the Weather Channel to see if there's a storm headed towards where her kids live. She has been known to purchase an item or two from a home shopping channel. And she watches access TV. (She still gets a kick out of seeing her son's name in the closing credits of a public access program).

Mom watches Billerica Town Meeting and the Selectmen faithfully, and has very strong opinions about local issues and personalities she didn't know before. She often tells ME what's going on! She's not a couch potato or anything (She dropped HBO because it just didn't have enough that interested her); rather she uses cable TV to supplement what SHE'S interested in. But use it she does, and what was initially an unnecessary frill has become something she enjoys, counts on for information and entertainment, and can't imagine doing without.

The VCR a year or two later was the same story.

"Oh, no. I WATCH cable TV, but I'd never want to TAPE anything! I don't need a VCR. Don't want one. Wouldn't know what to do with one even if I had one. Probably couldn't even figure out how to use it!"

Suffice it to say that she has one now. And not only is the clock NOT blinking 12:00 all the time, but she even uses the timer to tape stuff that's on when it's inconvenient for her to watch. She mastered the machine once she saw what it could do for her.

Acceptance of ANY new media technology is a slow process, I think. It depends not on the technophiles who'll run out and buy ANYTHING new as soon as it comes out so that they can be on the "cutting edge" of innovation. Nor on those who are fearful, suspicious or so set in their ways that they'll never try ANYTHING new.

The advancement of media technology in our society as a whole is best indicated by the "techno-apathetic" - folks like my mom - who only very gradually accept the new electronics, but then become convinced that they really DO serve a useful purpose.

My mother does not yet have a computer. I figure she's 5-10 years away from one.

"Oh, no! Not for me! I don't want one. Don't need one. Wouldn't know what to do with one even if I HAD one," she says.

Right, Mom.

Bill Walsh is the A/V Media Specialist at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA.