[PHOTO AT LEFT - Mom: The author Tara Sering’s newly minted tech-savvy mom, Ningning Sering, with her pink-shelled Mac.]

MANILA, MARCH 3, 2009 (STAR) YELLOW LIGHT By Tara F.T. Sering - Cell phones, Blackberrys, laptops, videocams, video games. The warp speed at which technology evolves has put the learning curve for handling gadgets almost at a 90-degree angle that, incredibly, kids seem to be very fond of. Give a gadget-savvy 10-year-old any phone and he or she will master its functions in less than an hour, or at least 1/100th of the time it will take me to do the same (assuming I don’t give up entirely, which is a more likely scenario). I’ve been laboring in the Easy category of Guitar Hero for weeks; meanwhile, nieces and nephews way less than half my age have gone on virtual shopping sprees for new outfits with the virtual gig money they’ve earned by rocking the Hard category. (Also, because I’m on the slow Wii train, I didn’t know until recently that you could change clothes like that).

It’s often been said that handling high-tech gadgets is like learning a new language — kids will take to it naturally, and those closer to the other end of the age spectrum will need, er, classes, if not an entire course. And because, in this age of unprecedented migration — when one family of six can live in four different continents — high-tech gadgets have become indispensable tools in maintaining relationships, keeping abreast with technology is taking on a Darwinian flavor: only the tech-savviest will survive.

And it pays to try. When a friend’s 75-year-old mother sent her a text message from Europe, she couldn’t figure out how to insert spaces between words, and thus had to sendherlove and affection fromparis in the springtime without pause. She was new to cell phones when almost everyone else could text at five characters per second without as much as a lazy glance at the keys, and before she left for France, used the mobile phone like a walkie-talkie: she would bring the phone squarely to her mouth and yell into it, and transfer it against her ear to catch the reply from the other end.

Another friend’s 83-year-old dad has, thanks to freebie reward phones from his son, become a cell phone junkie and spends a considerable amount of time figuring out mobile moves that would never occur to me to do. “What if,” he asked me once, assuming that by my age I would be well versed in technology, “I want to send a text message but I’m still talking on the phone, I’m sure that’s possible, right?” At this point, we send for another much younger person to address the question.

Tech survival, therefore, is a state of mind. If you need it, you’ll find your way around it. The best example is the closest to home — years ago, when my mom had to dispatch family news to her siblings, she let her secretary do the “prep” job. It might not be wise for me to divulge my mom’s real age, but let’s just say she could have been one of the screaming fans at a Pat Boone concert.

Prep meant switching on the computer, logging onto the Web, navigating to the e-mail page, setting everything up so that all my mom had to do was type, then hitting the Send button, a button then still unfamiliar to my tech-challenged mom. When the replies came, sent to my mom’s Inbox from various points in the country and the world, the secretary would print them out and leave them on my mom’s desk. My mom would then read her mail at her leisure, like snail mail, safe in the illusion that time and technology were moving at a languid pace.

Out of The Dark

Now she recalls those times as though they were the Dark Ages, a time when she couldn’t unleash gossipy instincts over e-mail without bringing her secretary into her small circle of confidence. Her newly refined Internet skills have brought the extended family news to digital speed — a cousin gets engaged and within minutes, the news is blitzed to, well, everybody. When my brother lived abroad for a year, my mom could not believe her savings in phone bills, thanks to Yahoo Messenger. Christmas has also become a less stressful affair: instead of worrying about sending greeting cards by post well in advance, she can blast off personalized well wishes online.

“You won’t really know how easy it is until you try,” my mom now says, still marveling at how getting up to speed with gadgets has changed her life. She has displayed one of the surest signs of being hooked — on a trip to Hong Kong with two good friends, they each bought identical Macbooks they called the Friendship Macs (later on during the trip, there were Friendship Bags, and Friendship Shoes, etc). While it has made her work in real estate infinitely more efficient, it’s what technology has done for her personal relationships that makes her truly grateful.

Four years ago, she received an e-mail from an old high school classmate (whom she had not heard from since that year she spent as an American Field Scholar in the ‘60s) who had found her through After a flurry of e-mail exchanges, a grand class reunion was set, along with an emergency weight-loss regimen, and within months my mom was back in the American Midwest, in North Dakota’s Valley City, where she had spent a year as a 15-year old in poodle skirts, dancing the pandango sa ilaw on Valley City High’s cultural night, impressing mystified Midwesterners with tales from the tropics, and writing long letters that would take weeks upon weeks — if not months — to get to her parents half a world away in Surigao City. Back then, all you needed were pens and paper and pennies for postage stamps.

New Game

It’s an entirely different time now. “These days, (knowing how to work gadgets) is almost like a requirement to connect with their loved ones,” says Mitch So, marketing manager of Nokia, who knows all too well what it means to relate across borders. The mobile phone giant, famous for being easy to use (for that it has earned a nickname of its own), has long picked up on their role in this high-tech age. “Now, more than ever, when families are spread out into the four winds, you have no other recourse but to learn how to relate via new technology,” explains So, who adds that the company goes for designs that make mobile technology easy for people to use. So’s own mother only learned how to text recently, and only because she needed to reply to her granddaughter’s affectionate text messages. It’s a familiar scenario — many grandparents are picking up the signal and going high tech to keep in touch with their busy children and to speak the language of their gadget-crazed grandchildren.

It might sound a little ironic, but real human connection still lies at the heart of all the complicated gadgetry — so those who need to use them can. Cell phones are displaying options for bigger text fonts so those whose eyesight has deteriorated can still read them, laptops are weighing less and less so they can be easier to take around and so people can e-mail and chat with family and friends from wherever, and Facebook is ruling the world (take a wild guess why).

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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