Human beings have been around in their present form – homo sapiens sapiens – for about 150,000 years, give or take a few score millennia. If we assume that young Cro Magnon men and women did not wait to have babies until they had graduated from college and paid off their student loans, a generation for most of that time would have been, say, fifteen years. So there have been maybe ten thousand generations of people. For the first nine thousand nine hundred ninety nine of those generations, old people explained to young people how to shape a promising looking bit of stone into a hand axe or how to protect a castle with a moat or how to rebuild an internal combustion engine. We are now living in the first generation of the human experience in which young people tell old people how stuff works.
These sober reflections were prompted by my experience yesterday. Faithful readers will recall my traumatic Parisian struggles last time around to get on the Internet. This time, as soon as we arrived, I set up my computer and had a go. No problem. Nor was there any problem with the telephone [which I rarely use because my French is not good enough to chat on the phone.] But the television set was a complete non-starter.
So what?, you might reasonably ask. With all Paris at my doorstep, what need have I for TV? Well, leaving aside my plebian tastes, there is the problem of my renters. I advertise the apartment [in the back pages of the New York Review of Books] as having, among other things, TV, and I feel compelled therefore to make the damned thing work. I tried. I unplugged the modem and rebooted it [always the first thing to do, as I have learned from Time Warner Cable.] I unplugged and replugged the cable box [called, in France, rather ominously a “decoder.”] Then I screwed my courage to the sticking point [I trust you know the source of that cliché – it is the crossbow] and walked over to the nearest Orange store [Orange is what FranceTelecom became when that fine old state corporation was taken private some years ago.] There I was given an English language phone number to call for help. [Trying to describe technical problems over the phone is hard enough for me in English – in French it would be a charade.]
I called the number and received a recorded announcement that there was no such number – not promising. I consulted the Internet and found a completely different number, which did indeed connect me to a young man who spoke quite good English. I told him my sad story and assured him that I had rebooted the modem, trying to sound as technically proficient as I could manage. Speaking slowly and distinctly, as one would to a not too bright child, he asked me to look at the TV set. Did I see a button with an up arrow? I did. “Press it,” he suggested. I pressed it.
The TV set burst into color and sound with Bloomberg International reporting the business news.
I got off the phone as quickly and with as little further embarrassment as I could muster. Later, reflecting on the experience, it occurred to me that I might have deduced the problem, had I thought about it more deeply. TV sets in the U. S. typically receive cable signals on channel 3, or sometimes on channel 4. If the set gets switched to another channel, there is nothing but snow on the screen. Obviously, one of my renters accidentally or mistakenly pressed the channel button on the set and switched the set to the wrong channel [notice the care with which I distinguish “accidentally” from “mistakenly.” J. L. Austin would be pleased.]
In the next generation, younger children will explain to older children how things work.
Isaiah 11:6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.