Camera phones give a fuzzy shot of generation gap

August 15, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

IT IS NOW easy to tell if you're old and clueless in this country, and whether you should just pack your stuff and check into a retirement community and get it over with.

The way to tell is this: Do you have a camera phone?

Do you randomly walk up to people with your camera phone and snap their picture and then everyone bursts out laughing, the way they do in the TV commercials?

Or do you still have one of those old-fashioned cell phones - you know, the ones that are like the Yugos of the industry, where all you can do is make phone calls?

And when people randomly try to snap your picture with their camera phone and laugh, the way they do in the commercials, do you say: "Get away from me with that thing"?

There it is, the new generational divide, in a snapshot.

Young and hip: camera phones, point-and-shoot, breezy laughter, etc.

Old and clueless: "Can you hear me now? Honey, I'm in Home Depot. What kind of light switch was I supposed to pick up again?"

The stark realization of all this hit me again the other night, when my wife and I went out to eat at a local restaurant.

There were 10 young people seated at the next table. From the tone of the conversation, they appeared to be summer camp counselors enjoying a rare night off.

Not that there was a whole lot of conversation.

No, most of them spent the entire meal pointing their camera phones at each other and snapping pictures and laughing, just like the people in the commercials do.

"Do you remember when people went to restaurants to eat?" I said to my wife.

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I recognized a crippling bout of Old Fogeyism coming on and reached for a shawl to put around my shoulders.

I was about to suggest that we look into a nice retirement community, maybe something near a golf course, but then the food came and the thought went out the window.

But that's the problem I have with camera phones: There seems to be a conflict of interest over their basic use.

Do you want to talk on the stupid things?

Or do you want to take pictures?

And who thought it was a great idea to put a camera in a phone, anyway?

To me, it's like coming out with a microwave oven that plays show tunes.

Or a vacuum cleaner that doubles as a blender.

Sure, you can do it. The technology's there.

But what's the point?

And was a camera phone something people were actually clamoring for?

Of course, if you're of the generation that now leaves the Nikon at home and enjoys looking at tiny, grainy, off-color images captured on a camera phone, you're also of the generation that somehow finds enjoyment in text-messaging.

By law, of course, no one over the age of 30 is allowed to text-message with a cell phone.

So the whole business is very mysterious to those of us of a certain age.

Then again, no one over 30 knows how to text-message.

On the surface, it seems like way more trouble than it's worth.

You have to push all these letter keys a certain amount of times, in some sort of order, just to say something profound like: "Hey, what's up?"

Then you have to wait for the person on the other end to get your message - and this can take a while, depending on what kind of service you both have.

(I have three kids, ages 23, 19 and 14. And no matter where they are with their cell phones, they always say the same thing: "The service here stinks." Except they don't say "stinks.")

Then the person on the other end has to go through his own rigmarole with the keys before you get a snappy reply like: "I'm at the mall."

Great.

Glad you two stayed in touch.

Look, I know young people are good at this, and that their fat little fingers are a blur as they fly across the keys to check in with each other.

But this is too much to handle for those of us who are not young.

I still have a VCR that blinks 3:42 in blood-red numbers, and if I can't figure out how to fix that, I can't be taking on text-messaging.

So you won't be getting any "Dude, I'm at the mall" messages from me.

And I won't be sending any grainy shots of cool roadside signs or funny license plates to your cell phone, either.

Hey, it took me weeks just to figure out how to talk on my cell phone.

I'm not ready to push the envelope with any other functions, OK?

Maybe in a few years we can learn how to retrieve voice-mail messages.

But let's not get crazy here.

Let's take it one step at a time.

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