Friday, 11 January 2008

They’re the modern Stone Age family

On our hands here we have a post that could potentially annoy my family a lot but actually won’t since they will never read it. The main reason why they will never read it, ignoring language issues, is that they are totally useless with technology. The main topic of this post is my annoyance with their total uselessness with technology.
Before commencing, I will add a disclaimer: although this post mostly deals with the Israeli side of my family, lacklustre-ness in the face of technology is in no way limited to this branch of the family alone; nor is it limited to family alone, with friends being inflicted just the same. With friends, however, the story is a bit different: it’s more to do with failing to use available technology.
Most importantly, the purpose of the post is not to demean the technologically illeterate but rather to show the annoying effects of this illeteracy. None of the people who inspired this post are even remotely bad.
But never mind that for now: let’s end the disclaimer and start the post.

For two years now I have been maintaining our photos in Flickr. By now there is a wide range of photos there covering various periods of our lives but focusing on the age of digital photography, that is 2003 and onwards – a not too bad approximation of our time in Australia. I’ve said there is a wide range of photos there but that is actually a severe understatement: we have 10,000 (ten thousand!) photos on Flickr, a pretty unprecedented achievement. Think about it: if 20 printed photos are about 1 centimetre thick, printouts of all our Flickr photos would create a 5 meter high tower. Not only that, our tower is constantly getting higher and higher, and we also have a big pile of old photos that await cooler weathers and some free time before they get themselves scanned and uploaded.
In short, I don’t know anyone who shares their photos the way we do.
There are good reasons for doing this: First, for us it’s a very easy and effective way to browse our photos any time and anywhere. Before Flickr, older photos would be dumped somewhere – either an elusive drawer or a burnt DVD or an extra hard drive – and be forgotten. Now I can retrieve any photo I want within seconds, search and browse, watch slideshows, and reread the thoughts that ran in my head at the time the photo was taken, all at the flick of a mouse.
Second, being that we are away from the majority of our family and friends, Flickr allows us to share the events of our lives with every one of them that wants to experience those. Sure, there’s this blog too and it caters for the same need, but it’s too unfriendly to its readers (especially one with religious inclinations) and too irrelevant for simple family news updates; it also requires an effort on the part of the reader. Photos, on the other hand, are the manifestation of instant gratification: within a second you get what you wanted, no effort involved.

So why is it, then, that my family in Israel keeps on asking me to send them prints? Why is it that even those of them that have internet access and actually access our Flickr page occasionally cherish prints so disproportionately over watching the same photos on their PC monitors?
I can speculate on those questions, but what I would do instead is circumvent them altogether and say that they are totally irrelevant. If my family really wanted prints, they could get them through a number of stupidly easy ways without involving me at all:
1. The simplest but dumbest way would be to save the pictures from Flickr on to a memory card or to a CD, all of which are available to my family, and then go to a photo print shop and have them printed. All of the baby Dylan’s photos I have uploaded into Flickr are at their top quality, so using Flickr does not represent a compromise in quality; generally, the stuff we have in Flickr would be technically better than anything they are used to in their own photographs.
2. If memory cards or CD’s are a pain for them to handle, and they are, they can save the Flickr photos on their hard drives, and then upload them to a website that allows the ordering of prints online. These websites are now as common as mushrooms after a nuclear holocaust, and physical borders don’t matter much to them. Regardless, there are plenty of Israeli websites that offer these services, too.
3. By far the easiest option would be for them to order the prints directly from Flickr. Just login to your family Flickr account, say that you want to order prints, select the photos through the most user friendly interface ever, and wait for the postman to arrive.
There’s always a “but”, and obviously there is a “but” in here, too, otherwise I wouldn’t write this post. That “but” is that my family, including those that have internet access, are such technophobes that they wouldn’t even open a Flickr account. The option to do so is way beyond their imaginations! The thought of printing a photo regardless of the actual location of the photo taker is completely out of the scope of their minds.
It gets worse: I want to invite them to join Flickr but I can’t because I don’t know their email addresses. Yes, you read it right. And no, as imaginative as I can be, I find it very hard to imagine how a person can live in this day and age without the basics of internet and emailing understandings: it’s not much different to having a car but not knowing how to get the gas to run it with. It’s pretending that the world is still at the Stone Age when everything around you says it is not the case.
This explains why I’m still pestered to send photo prints.

As annoyed as I am with all of the above, I find the issue of reciprocity to be the most annoying factor of it all.
We have a four year old nephew in Israel whom we have last seen two and a half years ago. Since then we’ve seen nothing of him other than three photos sent a couple of months after we visited Israel anyway. If we were to see our nephew now I very much doubt that we would be able to recognize him. Worse, photos of my parents and my other family members have never streamed across to Australia.
Why is it, then, that my family demands photo prints from us but doesn’t bother sending us photos of theirs?
I can start a nice discussion here on how easy most of us find asking others to do things we wouldn’t like to do ourselves is, but I won’t. The very same reason that prevents them from benefiting out of our Flickr photos prevents them from creating their own photos: ignorance. Just see how damaging ignorance can be!

When presented with the reciprocity argument, family and friends always have a winning card on their hands: “you were the one that left us behind, so you should be the one making the effort”. Of course, they never explicitly say it, but that argument is always in the air – especially with UK friends.
While true, my answer is – well, what would you expect us to do? Come and live in Israel, where even if we wanted to we wouldn’t be able to live because of perceived differences in religions and because non-Jews are second grade scum in Israel? Regardless of Israeli specific arguments, such emotional blackmail has no place between family and friends. Sure, we are indebted to all of them, especially the parents, but when it comes to living our lives the way we want to we owe nothing to no one. Those that truly care for us should best avoid the “leaving us behind” argument, or better yet – they should get their act together and come over here :-)

Till that happens, how do I get someone to teach my family some internet sense? Or, to put it bluntly: Haim, are you interested in a rewarding contribution to humanity?


wile.e.coyote said...

Well, usually I don't call parents as Humanity, I invited them 4 months ago to come to my house and see their grandson and they declined.
I am also trying to teach my father to do some computer stuff, and other then Yahoo chess which he is playing for the last 5 years (still on dial up), no progress there.
Old dog, new tricks, does not work.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Data collected so far shows your observation is valid, but still: at least your father plays chess over the internet, which is infinitely more complicated than what my family does.
Also bear in mind that in my case we're talking about my sister, too. She got a PC and that is probably why my parents declined your invitation, and given she's not that much older than I am it's a bit harsh to assume new tricks cannot be taught.
BTW, the Nintendo DS has a chess game where you can play against online opponents (you need wireless). It works great - maybe that's one way to get your father better connected.

wile.e.coyote said...

my SheBear Minister of Finance is very strict with my expenses, she is spying on me all the time so I guess Nintendo DS is not an option (belive it or not, but I am even not allowed to buy a small, cheap, valuable GPS).
Anyway if needed I am willing to teach the Owl's sister some tips and tricks about surfing.

Moshe Reuveni said...

If you get a PDA, which you may already have, you can run Tomtom on it (or some other GPS software), and then you only need a bluetooth GPS receiver. Many PDA's have GPS receivers in them already.
I know it's still an expense, just wanted to let you know in case you have a PDA.
And as for owl's sisters, being a doctor and all does she really need your help?

wile.e.coyote said...

Well we can always play Doctor and sick Coyote

As a non-capitalcs, I am not playing with the race for gadegets that a lot of our generation is infected with, don't have PDA, don't have GPS, use film Camera, got a 4 years old cellular, 5 years old PC, 4 years old MP3 player, 10 years old car and don't have any portable devices (other then the work laptop).
The only stuff I put my $$$ on is ACME devices, but this is for work (combined with pleasure)

Moshe Reuveni said...

I'm impressed. I'm hooked on gadgets myself, but I try to be sensible (Jo could tell you how unsuccessful I am).
My PDA is also my GPS and my mobile phone. It's a shit phone, but it runs some useful software and with GPS maps for Australia and Europe it has proven very successful; no maps for us anymore, no getting lost either. I use it on a regular basis in Melbourne, where the city is so large you can never really know all of it.
With my camera I take no shame because photography is one of the things I like the most; a camera for me is not just another gadget.
As for MP3 players, I did sin and get one, but I fully admit it's a piece of shit. It is nice, however, to have our music collection with us on the go, but today I would have bought a laptop's hard drive in a box with a small screen and a few buttons and I would have been much happier.