Sunday, April 26, 2009

Talking about Twitter with my 84-year-old dad...

My papa (father, not grandfather) is awesome. This is what he looks like: (--------->)

That's his desk and he spends most of his waking hours there, working. My dad has been a lawyer since he finished law school in 1951. Though he officially retired in 1987, he still works everyday.

Papa is totally online now. He e-mails daily and can do attachments (though, learning to attach took a bit longer to master). His most recent cyber-coup was signing up for Gmail and learning he can chat from inside the inbox. ("But how did you know I was online?" he asked, the first time I appeared on his screen at home in Hawaii while I was at my computer in New York.)

For an 84-year-old, I'd say my papa is ahead of the curve when it comes to being Web-savvy.

Yesterday, he asked me about Twitter. I tried my best to explain. This is how it went (edited for clarity and typographical errors):

geanwcannon: I really don't have any idea what twitter is although I see a lot of reference to it online. Could you give me some idea what it is and what use can you make of it?

me: twitter is a service whereby you can post very small messages online
they must be smaller than 140 characters
so it's a bit like a micro-blog
people write these tiny messages
sometimes from their phone
all day long
and it's open for the world to see

geanwcannon: Where online does it go? How do you get it "online?"

me: you either send a message from the twitter web site, or hook up your phone to the web site
and [the messages] go to a kind of collective cloud
of messages
to organize it, each person has an account
then they announce to other people that they have an account
then someone [another Twitterer] can hit a button and become a "follower"
so on your own personal page, you will see your own messages, as well as the messages of people you follow

geanwcannon: Has an account -Where?

me: on twitter
to use twitter
each user has to establish an account on the web site

geanwcannon: What web site?

me: twitter
twitter has a main web site
you go there, set up an account, then send messages through your account
then other people can follow your messages from their own accounts
here's an example
you and me and leilani [my sister] and tom friedman
each of us want to use twitter
so each of us go to the twitter site, which is
then, we each open an account. my account is very simply "mailecannon"
so now we all have accounts
from my account, i write short messages
they get posted on my account page
(which is what i see every time i sign into twitter, just like how i [see my inbox each time I] sign into my e-mail account)
so let's say, you and leilani and i want to follow each other
we would find each other my entering our respective account names
then, we would hit a button to become "followers"
so if we all did that, all of our messages would be seen in all of our respective pages

geanwcannon: Fascinating- Now
Now i know. It is a shortcut form of e-mail.

me: well, yes and no
anyone could see it
not just you and me and leilani
it's not that personal
for example: tom friedman
i follow him on twitter
so all i do is enter his name
and press a button to become a follower
so i can see all of his messages
but it isn't like we communicate
he doesn't know who i am

geanwcannon: I want to give this a try. This is an easy way to broadcast to the world.

me: very very easy
and sometimes
total strangers follow me
because there is a search function
so let's say i go to a mozart concert
and i send a message about mozart
and maybe
at the same time
someone is looking for something about mozart
and they see my message
so if they like it, they might want to follow me
i did this recently [followed strangers]
there was a big student protest at new school
and i didn't have the time to go down and see the students. so what i did was make a twitter search. then, i aggregated messages from people who were there and writing messages about it
so it was like live news
though i have to say, it's flawed. because it is so personal, people just write some very silly things and that is impossible to control.

geanwcannon: You have roused my curiosity. I want to sign up on Twitter. I have some foolish things I want to say.

What is most striking to me about this conversation is that it made me realize that there really is a huge gap in natural understanding when it comes to technology and the Internet. Now, it's obvious that younger people usually have the advantage over older people when it comes to technology, but I think it's assumed that that's because older people just didn't learn this stuff, nor care to learn it. However, what became obvious in chatting with my father was that he was approaching Twitter with a mental landscape very different from my own. If tailored handbooks were available to teach people about Twitter (or Facebook, or whatever), my dad's book would not look like mine. For example, I recently explained Twitter to a friend of mine my age and the conversation was simple: "Go to and sign-up." There wasn't too much discussion about where these messages might be going, how they got there or what happened to the messages once they got sent. But with my dad, he really wanted to know more before he would buy into it.

For me, all this says a lot about the learning process and how one relates to the world now. To have access to the newest (though arguably not the best) information, one must be in a constant habit of learning HOW to do it. But, from my understanding, learning, in general terms, is the realm of the young. Though people talk about developing a "love of learning," that usually meant maintaining a life full of interests and reading books about them, or perhaps taking a class. This was almost always available to everyone because the method of transmitting information (reading books or talking face-to-face with people) held true once one overcame the initial burdens of learning to read, listening carefully and thinking critically.

Now, with the Internet, people must alter their entire understanding of HOW to GET information. And if we want people, specifically the elderly, to continue being able to stay on top of things, that means we have to consider seniors as a unique learning group, and then develop learning techniques to cater to their specific needs. I don't think this has ever been an issue before, and that's pretty interesting.


Maile said...


Xeb said...

So if and when we have time, I suggest that we work on a series of new media guidebooks sorted by age. I have a feeling they'd be extremely popular! So popular in fact, that they could be feature on Quirkibble even! :P

Joe said...

Great stuff. It is totally amazing how much everything has changed. I think we are extremely lucky to have been growing up at the same time the internet was coming into it's own. It's nice to have some memories of before all this stuff existed.

Michael said...

so that's what twitter is thanks maile now i know interesting.