Nobody Wants To Feel Like They’re Obsolete

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Q: Dad, what browser do you use? A: One that browses well. Q: Okay, what’s it called? A: A browser.

I don’t know about you, but I try to avoid technological discussions with my parents. Even though they are relatively tech aware, they tend to be Team Windows and I am Team Mac. Also: While the “My cool grandma owns an iPad” trope is totally ubiquitous and real, older people tend to be over-sensitive about their level of tech acumen. It’s a fear of mortality thing, I’m thinking.

That’s why when Alexis Madrigal came with the idea to turn Black Friday into “Update Your Parents’ Browser Day,” I winced, despite holding universal modern web browsing standards as something to aspire to. As part of what might be the last generation to remember what life was like before the World Wide Web, the idea of having to explain something as simple as a browser update to the people who bought me my first computer — and, you know, gave me life — strikes me as sort of sad.

If technology makes us more human, as Twitter’s Jack Dorsey has argued, then the absence of technology turns those at the short end of the USB stick into a different species. You hate thinking of your parents as weaker than you in any way, let alone using Internet Explorer 6.

This morning I was almost too scared to ask my parents what browser they use, for fear that I might actually have to celebrate tomorrow’s holiday. After being silly (he is after all related to me), my Dad answered Google Chrome (whew!). For the record I use Chrome Canary — and it’s way buggy in OS X Lion.

To the insular group of tech early adopters that read (not to mention write for) a site called TechCrunch, it is scary to think that 7.9% of the world still uses the decade-old IE6. The advantages of updating to a recent browser version go way beyond improved speed and lack of self-installing ‘BonziBuddy’-esque toolbars …

One Hacker News commenter describes the terror of his Dad inadvertently playing into the hands of spyware, “He fired up the ol’ IE7, went to the HSBC page, completed the first step of logging in, and there it was, clear as day. A mysterious third box prompting the user to enter their full PIN.” Shudder.

He goes on, “We, as the more technically-minded people in our families, have an obligation to do this for the people we care about, in a way that extends far beyond those clever CSS animations or native video support. I’m lucky enough that my folks know to keep their eyes open to anything fishy online, but I had no idea he was still using IE7. The idea of him (or indeed anyone) inadvertently giving their complete bank details to some cyber-criminals out of completely innocent ignorance terrifies me.”

But not all parents are that amenable to technological change; evidence another Hacker News horror story, “Once I came to my parents’ house to find the family laptop having gained a wonderful feature where every search result would redirect to spyware. Did my best to clean the mess and get everything somewhat reasonable, and then got a call a few weeks later saying my “porn watching” ruined their computer and deleted their bookmarks.”

To avoid this sort of “You broke my Internet” issue, even savvier techies like Google’s Matt Cutts have resorted to lying clever work arounds.

Whether you’re the tech snob or the tech n00b at your family gathering, one thing is clear — the technological gulf between my parent’s generation and mine will be completely dwarfed by whatever our children come up with to feel superior.

So here’s a message to my future offspring while they’re helping me on “Update Your Email Reading Contact Lenses Day” or whatever: Re-read the title of this post.

Sad image above: Shutterstock