Trevor Laffan: The past is a different country — and that’s where I live now

Progress is inevitable and most of it is good, but Trevor Laffan sometimes wishes young people could experience a bit of what it was like to live in simpler times.
Trevor Laffan: The past is a different country — and that’s where I live now

THE FUTURE IS NOW: Trevor Laffan is baffled by the games played by his son and grandson

I HAVE a great deal of respect, admiration and sympathy for all those parents who had to go through the home-schooling experience while the schools were closed.

I had a small taste of it when I called to see my six-year-old grandson, Cooper, and it was an eye opener.

It was just before the last lockdown and he was playing with his electronic gaming machine. He described the various games and the different levels he had reached, and I thought he was speaking in a foreign language.

I hadn’t an earthly clue what he was talking about. 

I tried my best to keep up, but I could see the despair in his eyes as he realised his grandad was completely out of his depth. 

He was probably wondering why I wasn’t already in a home for the bewildered, and I wouldn’t blame him.

The game he was talking about is a Switch, an electronic video gaming system from Nintendo. If you like to read a newspaper and occasionally refer to the radio as the wireless, then you won’t know what a Switch is either, so don’t feel so bad.

It looks like an overgrown mobile phone and, apart from that, I can’t tell you anything else about it, except that it makes noise. 

It’s a long way from the cowboys and Indians I was playing at his age, but it’s probably politically incorrect to even mention that now.

When Cooper was finished with his Switch, it was time for homework, and that presented me with a reminder of how times have changed.

He took out his English book to do his reading and immediately started making these strange noises. I thought at first he was choking so I leapt into action with my version of the Heimlich Manoeuvre, but as he recovered from the unprovoked assault, he explained that this is the way they learn to read these days.

Apparently, children no longer learn the alphabet. They learn the sounds, so instead of spelling the words, he was sounding each letter and then joining up the sounds to form a word.

It worked for him and he got there in the end, but it was totally alien to me. 

By the time I left, I was a wreck, and I realised the world is changing fast and leaving me behind. It’s happening in my own house too.

My 29-year-old son has a piece of technology connected to a TV in the back room and he plays games online with other similarly demented souls. I have no idea what’s going on except that it involves lots of shouting. Once he puts on his headphones, he is in a different zone.

He has a noise-cancelling headset which disconnects him from the rest of civilisation. He can only hear his own guys but, sadly, that’s not the case for the rest of us. It gets noisy when they play their war games. There is lots of fighting, shooting and killing and when their lives are threatened, there is a noticeable increase in volume.

He shouts warnings of impending danger to his buddies, and it get so loud that there must be times when the neighbours take cover behind the furniture, expecting the front door to come in around them.

When I’ve had enough, I go into the room and tap him on his shoulder to bring him back to reality. 

I remind him that he actually faces a greater threat of harm from the person standing behind him than he does from any trained killers on the TV.

That’s usually enough to restore a temporary reprieve.

I have come to accept that as I get older, the gap between father, son and grandson is widening. There was a time when I could teach them things but that’s no longer the case because what I know is no longer relevant to them.

If they have a question now, they just ask Alexa and that’s OK. That’s progress, I suppose, but I’m beginning to feel like my dad.

When my father got a desktop computer for the first time, he couldn’t cope. He was an amateur photographer and wanted to upload photographs and photoshop them, but he found the whole process very difficult. He was a good problem- solver normally, but he found this new stuff very frustrating, and he promptly gave up.

My mother had a Kindle, but she couldn’t download books from Amazon. I explained it to her until I was blue in the face but to her dying day, she just couldn’t get it. She thought the internet was her enemy and, in the end, she also gave up and returned to her paper backs.

Technology defeated both of them and I’m beginning to understand how they felt.

Cooper wanted to practice his spelling on my laptop, and I was amazed how well he could navigate his way around it. I can’t imagine what he will be able to do when he hits his teens, or where technology will be in ten years.

Progress is inevitable and most of it is good, but I sometimes wish young people could experience a bit of what it was like to live in simpler times. A time when there wasn’t an app for everything. A time when shouting ‘Alexa’ at the phone in the hallway would only have been answered with the dial tone.

I recently wrote about Laurel and Hardy visiting Cobh in 1953 and I asked my son, Colin, what he thought of the duo. He had never heard of them and the idea of watching anything in black and white without high definition, 3D, with super surround sound, on a 70 inch TV with all the bells and whistles was too much for him.

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