I go to the bank almost daily for work. It’s so familiar at this point I doubt I would even notice if there was a sign up offering unsupervised visits to the vault. The other day, however, I did observe something that gave me pause.
I was standing at the teller’s wicket. To my left was an elderly couple on the other side of a thick, transparent glass partition in heated discussion over the ATM. In front of me was the teller, a young man in his early twenties flustering over the simple addition of the change contained in my deposit.
I saw him punch into the calculator: $3.75+ $0.50; $35 + $4.25. I sighed. At this point, my thoughts would normally descend into an interior narrative bemoaning the decline of education and ignorance towards the basic principles of math and other subjects. But that elderly couple, inaudible across the glass partition, buoyed what normally would have been an inevitable descent into curmudgeonly lamentation.
I assumed they were arguing over the operation of the machine. I could have been wrong, of course. They could have been arguing over anything from political figures to the optimal method for removing coffee from clothing; the universe of a marriage remains a mystery. To make my point, though, they were arguing over the operation of the machine.
I was metaphorically straddling two generations. I’m not referring to just Gen Y or the Baby Boomers or the Greatest Generation but the generations demarcated by the ubiquity of technology. I am much closer in age to the teller but, unlike him (I’m assuming again), I can remember a time when my house didn’t have a computer in it. In school, the times tables were still inculcated by rote so we wouldn’t be reliant on a calculator as if technology might leave us (Ha!). I am not, by any stretch or tenuous definition of the term, a math prodigy; but, for addition to $39.25 I do not need a calculator. And I’m sure teller doesn’t need one either but he sure seemed pretty cozy with it. In time that reliance will erode even the most basic skills. Don’t believe me? If you’re under thirty right now, try some short division or long multiplication. Tough to remember, right?
But I am no Luddite. Technology has innumerable benefits and it’s crucial forthcoming generations remain abreast of as much it as possible. Older generations need to learn too. Nothing frustrates me more when I hear my father, even my grandfather say: “I’m too old to learn that.” To me, their obdurateness is tantamount to accepting futility. I don’t think anyone should give up learning, ever. We would live in a vastly different world if everyone gave up on academic or even just avocational pursuits once they surpassed some arbitrary temporal benchmark. We would stagnate.
At this point, the teller was staring at me curiously. He was attempting to force my bank-bag back into my hands in an effort to signal to me it was time move on. I was staring upwards, blankly; holding a poorly attended discourse in my head. When I finally took the hint and looked to my left, the couple was still holding conference. That partition now seemed more obtrusive, occluding the free flow of knowledge between the generation that needed to more about technology and the one that needed to more about how it came to be.