Marshall: ‘This digital immigrant vows to fight irrelevancy’

Islander columnist Becky Fox Marshall reminisces about the old days, before “digital natives,” Facebook, IMing and LoL-ing.

Reclining on the dentist’s chair after a particularly intense session last week, I was coming down off the effects of nitrous thanks to a thorough flushing of oxygen when the dentist took over from the hygienist.

He explained to this relative newcomer to the office that I was “an old timer.” He mentioned that I often write about the “old days” and frequently say “I remember when…”

I just about choked on my gauze.

An old timer? Seriously? Have I become one of those? When did THAT happen?

Actually, I have a hunch as to when. Around the time women turn 50, we disappear. The lithe 20-something beauty behind the counter at the department store can’t see us – we’re beige blurs on the spectrum of people in line. The disaffected youth at the restaurant with more piercings than hair on your head can’t see us – we’re just sort of irrelevant. Ride the ferry and not only do I not know anyone, I’m not sure I’m even visible. It’s as if I have disappeared.

It’s a terrible thing to disappear, to be irrelevant. Now I understand why my parents’ friends often dwelled in that “I remember when…” conversation which I considered, frankly, irrelevant. It was time for them to move on over for my generation.

I watched my parents watch this island and grow increasingly discouraged by what they saw. Their friends moved away, citing taxes but talking about the people who now inhabited this place. It was really nothing specific they could hang that disappointment on – it was the times, and the times had come to the island. People talked about moving here for specific reasons, then set about trying to change the place – inadvertently and deliberately. My parents moved here in 1948 because they couldn’t afford Seattle – and set about building the place with friends and neighbors.

But there I go again – going all “old days” on you. Perhaps we cling to those days because we’re afraid to lose what was valuable, even if we’re more than willing to let go of what needs to be improved or jettisoned.

Maybe it’s nothing more than the realization that at 50-something, we’re caught between the “digital natives” and our own, increasingly irrelevant ways.

Digital natives, as I understand the fellow on the radio the other day, are those born from 1980 on, who have grown up and are fully integrated with technology. They live different lives than the rest of us.

They get up in the morning and check their Facebook or MySpace accounts as the coffee brews, to see what their friends have been up to; they check their favorite blogs to see what the news has been up to; and check to see if they garnered any winks. They pay a few bills online. They might IM their mom (hint hint). They keep all their music and photos in digital format. You won’t find speakers or CD changers or photo albums or file cabinets or phones plugged into walls. They don’t bother putting the word “digital” in front of their camera or cable service – it goes without saying.

I got a Facebook account, in my attempt to stave off irrelevancy. My daughters, who have graciously ignored my requests to connect there, find it amusing. I am, according to the man who coined the term digital native, a digital immigrant. I can’t help it – it’s fact by virtue of the year of my birth. But I fight against irrelevancy daily. I guess that means ceasing the “I remember when” talk.

So I guess my dentist was right. I’m sure he thought he was being simply conversational – because only women in their 50s know how loaded the description he offered can be. I do remember how it used to be, and it wasn’t always great. For one thing, dentists had spit sinks and I never got nitrous.