Archive for January, 2009

The nursing home scene: the next generation

January 26, 2009

J0422766 For much of 2008, my aunt was in a nursing home. It was a good enough place, I guess, clean, airy (most of the residents spent their days in a large, well-lit atrium), and highly rated; it wasn’t, however, a high-end luxury facility, catering more to moderate income and Medicare patients.

Every time I visited I was struck by just how bored everyone seemed. Oh, they had a daily card or bingo game in the recreation room, folks that would occasionally read a few headlines and discuss them with the patients, and an ancient TV that seemed dedicated to showing videos of old musicals. But most of the patients—and all were confined to wheelchairs—just sat there. It’s not that most weren’t mentally alert, there was just nothing to do. So when I walked through to visit my aunt, I felt everyone’s eyes on me; I was something new going on, I was the show. When a patient tried to get up from a wheelchair and set off an alarm, everyone perked up, something was happening. When a woman got into a loud argument with her visiting husband, you could have sold tickets.

The nurses were aware of the boredom factor; they had one solution, which they offered my aunt when they saw her fidgeting with the blanket on her lap—would she like a baby doll? Several of the patients did carry baby dolls around, which they swaddled, and patted, and treated like real babies. Oh, most knew they were dolls all right, they’d put them down easily enough when there was something interesting going on, but it gave them something to do.

Blatantly missing, to my eyes, were computers. There wasn’t one public computer, anywhere, for the use of the residents; not one patient had their own computer as far as I could tell. Not really surprising—this was a generation that was mostly out of the workforce when computers came in, they didn’t learn how to use them, and had no interest in learning now. Indeed, if my experience trying to show my mother how to use a mouse or touchpad to control a cursor is any example, they’d find the whole thing more frustrating than satisfying.

The scene might not look much different at first glance when my generation populates the nursing homes; we may still be in wheelchairs, looking down at our laps. But on every lap we’ll have a computer, so at least we won’t be bored. We’ll be driving our doctors crazy by checking out the medical sites and coming up with ideas for experimental drugs to treat our diseases, we’ll be commenting rabidly on political blogs, and (this is how I plan to spend my days) we’ll be cruising virtual worlds as  20-something-year-olds, our avatars scantily dressed, picking up hot guys (and being shocked when one turns out to be the 90-year-old across the room).

The Facebook dilemma: If they weren’t your friends then, should they be your “friends” now?

January 17, 2009


When I joined Facebook a year or so ago, I checked for high school classmates but came up blank. Not a big surprise, Facebook was moving slowly into the over-40 market, and we Silicon Valley folks were the first to sign on.

In the past few weeks, though, former high school classmates have started popping up and friending me. As a Facebook group, we still number in the single digits, but the friend requests are coming often enough that I dug out my dusty yearbook and put it on a bookshelf near my computer (thinking maybe if I look at people’s old pictures I’ll remember them.)

For some of my new Facebook friends/old high school classmates aren’t people I remember easily. It’s likely that I never had one conversation with them in high school, didn’t exchange one hello.

I left some of those friend requests sitting unanswered for a bit while I figured out what I wanted to do with them. Did I really want to have contact now with people that didn’t try to reach out to me when I was a teenager, a 10th grade transfer student to a new high school, and could have really used a few new friends?

It turns out that yeah, I was willing to accept those friend requests. They make me revisit high school memories that I long thought I left behind, at a time when I’m in year four of what will add up to 11 years of high school for my three kids. Having a few flashbacks has gotta at least help me relate, a little, to what my kids are going through.

And it turns out that I have a different perspective on my high school experiences these days. I moved into the school district in early December of sophomore year, coming into a high school with a complex and inflexible social structure that boxed people into a vast array of cliques; some of these cliques even had names, and dated back to my mother’s high school days, when it was a regional instead of local high school. I didn’t really understand how all the boxes worked—there were the jocks, of course, and the druggies, and the student council, but wait, I think the druggies were the student council. And the “sub-debs” which was an odd attempt at a sorority, with hazing and initiation rituals; I think you had to be a sub-deb to be a cheerleader, or at least it seemed that way, not that I had any interest (or a shot) at being either. There were the black kids (all two or three of them). There was also a line between the “business” students (that took shorthand and typing and weren’t expecting to go to college) and the college bound. And many more boxes that I only vaguely understood. And not one group opened itself to me, though I did find a handful of the also-cliqueless to eat lunch with—all nice enough, but we had little in common other than our failure to find a box.

After a few months of waiting to see if I would magically pop into a box through no effort of my own, I stopped waiting—or paying attention to the high school social scene. I didn’t try very hard to make friends; I had a group of kids that I spent my evenings and weekends with, and while it would have been nice to have more of a social life during the school day, I didn’t have time for much more. My out-of-school friends were an eclectic bunch, from at least half a dozen different high schools, identified in their respective schools as burnouts, jocks, cheerleaders, brains, and farmers (really) but we all fit together, somehow, usually very tightly in the back of someone’s truck. And those three high school years passed in a blur, with most of my memorable adolescent moments happening elsewhere. Regrets? Oh, maybe that I didn’t go to the prom, too daunted by the complexities of bringing an out-of-school guy. But other than that, not really. Resentments? Against the administration and guidance office, for sure, who looked more at a student’s family’s social status than anything else, but against the kids? Not at all.

So now, when former classmates friend me and I don’t remember them at all, I realize that it’s not their fault that they didn’t see me in high school, the walls of the boxes were too high for me to see them, either. And that the people who fit into their little boxes, the ones that seemed to navigate those treacherous waters effortlessly and happily, were likely trapped by the structure as well. And maybe, finally, as we slowly connect on Facebook, we’ll have a better idea of who each other is—and was—than we ever did back then.