In techno era, generational wisdom passes from son to father


August 08, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

Time was when parents, if so inclined, could teach their children most all the tricks: about fixing flats and changing oil, about jigging for bass and cutting the grass, about hanging doors and sanding floors, about reading Joyce or playing the pie-anno.

Whatever. There was always something, requiring wisdom or skill, that a father or mother could pass along to son or daughter, until the children became adults themselves, independent thinkers either buoyed or burdened by all their parents had taught them.

This was true until the computer. Though we are inclined to believe that the evolution of computerized society has been gradual, the record will show that, in the large hourglass of human history, it happened in a milligrain. And there has been, so far, only one generation that truly came of age with the computer -- the so-called Generation X, those who are now in their mid- to late 20s.

Though fathers and mothers would like to believe they inspired this generation to computer virtuosity, the truth is that, among the advantaged, Generation X's mastery of the personal computer quickly surpassed that of its parents.

The parents, it turns out, were simply providers of instruments. Buying a computer was the 1980s/1990s equivalent of handing Sonny Boy the keys to the car. Sonny Boy could drive in all five speeds while Dad was happy to find neutral.

This hard truth hit home, literally, with Mike Kegler, a 50-something computerhead-wannabe from Randallstown. If not for his son, now 26, college-educated and about to move out for good, Kegler still wouldn't know what DOS stands for. As difficult as it is to admit -- a distinctly "man thing" -- Kegler knows he still needs his son to drive him through the hard disk jungle.

"He's been my crutch since we bought our first computer a decade ago," Kegler says. "And I just never get it. 'Learned helplessness,' he calls it. 'Genuine befuddlement,' I call it."

The latest confrontation between father and son involved the son's rearranging of various directories stored on disk. Kegler sat down the other night to revise a letter he had been composing. His entire directory of works-in-progress had disappeared.

"Sent off to the hard disk or something," he snaps. "Supposedly this was for my own good."

That, in short, is what his son told him the next morning at breakfast. Kegler complained that such tinkering only confused him and made working with the computer more difficult. The son snapped; he'd had it with his father's whining.

"You're going to have to figure out the logic of the computer, Pops!" he crowed, opening the door to leave for work. "You won't have a computer adviser under your roof for the rest of your life, you know!" And he was gone.

On Cherry Hill Road

When he first saw the dog, the way it was jumping and snapping at the little boy's feet, Bryant Myers thought the animal was being playful. But the Rottweiler grabbed one of the 2-year-old's shoes and pulled it off. Then the boy's mother, who was holding her child as high as she could, started screaming and turning in circles. This happened the other day on Cherry Hill Road, where Myers, a service tech for Bell Atlantic, was on assignment.

"The woman ran behind me with the kid, then the dog jumped and ripped the kid's pants off," Myers says. "So that's when I took the kid from her and told the lady to get up on top of a car. I took the kid to a neighbor's house. There was blood all over me."

The boy received eight stitches on his legs at Harbor Hospital Center. Bryant Myers got a tetanus shot and well-deserved praise for intervening. The Rottweiler, an apparent stray with scars on his ears, never barked, never growled, never bothered any of the adults who gathered on Cherry Hill Road. It carried the child's shoe into a yard, sat down and chewed it -- until Animal Control arrived and took the dog away.

Are you paying attention?

The scene: Northern Parkway and Falls Road, rush hour, 7:10 a.m. Supporters of gubernatorial candidate Mickey Steinberg, wearing yellow campaign T-shirts, hold up signs and wave to motorists at one of the busiest, nerve-rattling intersections in the city. So, like, what's the point?

No telescope needed

For starters, I'm tempted to mention Alix Tobey Southwick's portraits of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis only because this marks the first time I've seen hand-painted portraits on shoes (on the canvas uppers, not the rubber soles).

"I often paint on less traditional canvases, including chairs and tennis shoes," Southwick says. But as wonderfully odd as it is, I wouldn't call the kings-of-jazz shoes the highlight of Southwick's interesting and fun show at the Space Telescope Science Institute, home of the Hubble, on San Martin Drive at Hopkins.

Her talents are in creating a folksy, almost-real portraiture, in colors that seem to be extracted from her subject's native environment, evident in a work called "Big Hair Babe" and in "Mom, Jones Beach." Southwick is in part a tributist, which is appealing. There's a wonderful portrait of the late Melina Mercouri. "And The Angels Sing" features Charles Mingus, Sun Ra, Sarah Vaughan, Duke Ellington, and several other stars from jazz heaven. Which is a nice touch, considering the show's location. You won't need a telescope to see any of this. The shoes and all the rest hang through Aug. 26.

This Just In appears each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Report earthly events on 332-6166.

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