My 15-year-old nephew went to computer camp this summer. This is the same nephew who not long before had shown me how he could play Dungeons and Dragons on a computer. To this day, I haven't had the nerve to tell him I don't know how to play Dungeons and Dragons in real life, much less on a computer. After computer camp, where he learned two more computer languages, we took him to the beach with us. I was afraid it was the last time we would be able to talk to him.
By Thanksgiving, however, he was still communicating with people, as well as computers. In fact, he brought his own computer to our family reunion. It was a terrific hit.
There we were in the living room of my parents' home, gathered around the computer and the television set, to a man acting like we fully understood what my nephew was up to. He can, of course, play no end of games on the computer but he has gone far beyond that. With my brother-in-law the advertising executive standing by, my nephew proceeded to fulfill various requests showing what his computer could do. Suddenly, indecipherable written commands appeared on the screen. Then, equally suddenly, sales charts appeared. Then more commands and the next thing you knew, sales charts were moving around, switching places, changing colors and patterns, and I knew right then that my friendly office word processor -- or at least what I can do with it -- is to the home computer what a jet is to the space shuttle.
Not too long ago, Time magazine ran a cover story about the "computer generation," labeling it a "new breed of whiz kids." The article began with a scene in a New Jersey high school and described a generation of youngsters who have grown up with computers. "For them," declared Time, "in ways few people over 30 can understand, manipulating these complex machines is as natural as riding a bike. . . . " The story quotes a computer executive as saying, "If you were born before 1965, boy, you're going to be out of it."
The future, it seems, is now. It also seems clear that the generation gap is going to be nothing compared to the computer gap. Perfectly fine nephews show up at family reunions with computers in tow, showing them off the way people used to show off the latest baby. You cannot open a Christmas gift catalogue or turn on the television without seeing some obnoxious child playing with a computer and telling you that it is the most wonderful thing in the world to give your family for Christmas. My son the 7-year-old has been coming up with a stream of names of portable computer games he wants for Christmas and it is my lot in life to inform him that we are not getting computer games since his father announced: "If an Atari set comes in, I go out."
Our friend the novelist has a computer in his home. No sooner had the first round of drinks been poured than he took everyone to his office to play space shuttle with a dinner guest. But they, being over 30, knew their limits: Our host knew he could write a novel and land the space shuttle on his home computer, but he knew he was light-years behind the kids breaking computer codes, writing their own programs, designing new games and using multimillion-dollar Defense Department networks as personal dating and message services. A mother who had brought her baby to the party wondered aloud about whether she'd had the baby in time to still communicate with her.
I remember hearing stories as I was growing up about elderly people who had never had a telephone installed in their homes. They couldn't adapt to the newfangled ways and the world just passed them by. Now I keep seeing stories about computers revolutionizing the home, watching for burglars, monitoring energy consumption and health, making appointments, paying bills and doing taxes, shopping for used cars and wonderful stocks.
For those who were born after 1965, this is probably great news and I hope when they grow up they'll find work so they can afford homes for their computers. As for me, I've started thinking about computer camp. I'm finally convinced computers are more than just a passing phase, and while I may be too old to go to camp by my nephew's standards, I'm too young to let the world pass me by, by mine.