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Silver Threads: Window on high-tech learning is closing fast

As you read this, I am far out of the country, and my husband may or may not have remembered to watch “NCIS” last night. It’s the only TV show he sees regularly — except for football games and some PBS specials — and you would think he would have tuned in if he isn‘t busy doing something else. It doesn’t matter though: Our DVR is set up to record it for him, along with some of my regular shows.

But he hasn’t learned to operate the DVR, thus the missed “NCIS” episodes will have to be viewed when I get back home. I could give him a tutorial before I leave, but fear that he’d somehow get somewhere in the system that he shouldn’t be and wipe out all my “Masterpiece Theatres” and recordings of “The Good Wife” and “Prime Suspect.”

It could happen.

It’s frustrating that neither my husband nor I have complete control over the high-tech, hi-definition monster we paid dearly to have brought into our home last January and that I wrote about for this website in February. I’m watching shows on the thing — but still unhappily; the speakers aren’t right for the big room they’re in and resist the efforts of my daughter, her husband and our two teenaged grandsons to fix them permanently — meanwhile my spouse uses the 16-year-old set in the bedroom.

I‘ve told you how we struggle along in our hi-tech lifestyle; he more a master of our computers and cell phones — but not the smart phones, for heavens sake! — than I, and I at least able to operate the DVR, but never feeling more stupid. Not in my entire 76 years have I failed at learning something new, except perhaps changing a tire or re-plumbing a sink and you know nobody but a paid-for pro really wants to do either.

Anyhow, a column I read in one of last week’s Wall Street Journal editions got me wondering if there isn’t a face-saving explanation for this ineptness. The columnist reported that at least three children who had grown up virtually without human contact and then been found and rescued when they were teenagers subsequently failed to learn to speak their languages fluently and properly. They couldn’t master grammar and syntax, instead talking a kind of “pidgin.”

“All of these cases, if they are genuine, reinforce the view that language must be learned within a critical window of time during youth, or it will be too late,” wrote Matt Ridley. “… The brain is innately designed to be open to experience, but only during a certain period.”

“Pidgin” is a good word for the level at which I live in the hi-tech world, and although proud of the progress I’ve made, I want to do it better. Some folks my age don’t even bother at all, but I want the conveniences offered. Why not be able to get and make phone calls wherever you happen to be, chat with faraway friends on-line, even watch “NCIS’ on your own schedule? None of it’s essential, but it’s fun.

As to the “window,” the “certain period of time” when I could have mastered technology as well as my daughter and grandsons have, theirs’ too will close and I wonder just what neat things and complications lie ahead for them. I’ve always wished that we could develop in my lifetime the process I used to watch on Star Trek: “Beam me up, Scotty!”

That would have made this trip of mine so much easier.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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