Stay Online, Stay Connected

Jean Pierre    20 Mar 2017

Among other millennials, I’m a little weird. Sometimes I think my mental age is too “old” to be a millennial. I am certainly not technology savvy—not even close. I get dizzy when my smartphone stops working or when I have to set up my new laptop all by myself. Simply put, I wasn’t born for this digital world. Nevertheless, I’m just like every millennial, surrounded by all sorts of electronic gadgets—laptop, smartphone, iPad, to name a few. Sometimes I’d even protect all my gadgets like a soldier, for I know they are a gateway through which I can stay connected with people whom I care. Indeed, ever since my mum brought me to this digital world, I couldn’t imagine a day without staying online. While enjoying the convenience of this virtual network, I was also inspired by my digital literacy and took on the task of bringing my grandparents to this mesmerizing digital world. Like this, digital literacy was passed on from one generation to another in my family, firmly gluing us together and bridging us to the rest of the world.

My digital life started around fifth grade. Quite a late age to get started on computers, you may say. Indeed. It was few years after QQ, a Chinese instant messaging application, hooked my entire generation, except for me. During school break time, my friends would talk about creating a group chat or sharing photos of someone’s birthday party on that app. I was always outside of their conversations as I didn’t have a computer back home and I’d no idea as to how that mysterious software they were babbling about worked. That was a time when I often felt abandoned and isolated.

However, its popularity among my peers also stirred up my curiosity. Why not give it a try? I used to play in my mum’s office yet never got interested in whatever the adults were doing on their computers, until one day I stood beside my mum and stared at her using QQ to chat with her clients. She’d ask me if I wanted to play for a while, and I’d usually deny. However, that day her computer trapped all my attention. I finally gave in to my curiosity and asked mum to get me a QQ account. Step by step, she showed me how everything worked out, and that online world completely mesmerized me. Then I neatly wrote down my password on a small piece of paper, carefully folded it and squeezed it deep into my pocket. I’d protect that piece of paper as if I were its private guard lest anyone stole it and stole my connection to the world. With mum’s help, I learned to send messages, add friends and browse their homepages. Later that day, I excitedly called all my friends and bombarded them with this news as if it was a newspaper headline. Then I fidgeted around until the computer beeped, which told me that they’d accepted my friending request. I frantically rushed my mum and her colleagues to the computer and proudly showed them my first ever online friend.

Despite the initial enthusiasm, I never learned to use some fancy features, even though friends had repeatedly showed them to me. For me, Internet was simply a way of connection so that I could keep in touch with my childhood playmates years after I graduated from primary school. Sometimes I’d hit them up and joke around; we’d bring up old funny memories and encourage each other when schools got tough. My digital literacy made it possible to continue our friendship even after many years had passed and to stay in touch even when we had chosen distinct life paths. This unbreakable connection makes me feel secure, and that sense of security seemed to be all that I needed out of the digital world.

Few years later, when my digital literacy finally reached a “reasonable” level for millennials, one scene inspired me to impart my digital knowledge onto my grandparents. It was when my cousin, grandma’s dearest granddaughter, left home for education in New Zealand. Her departure left my grandma in a depression from which she barely recovered. Eventually, my mum decided to take grandma to her office so that she could video chat with my cousin. Her “reunion” with my cousin was an unforgettable scene. When grandma saw my cousin’s face growing clearer on the monitor, I saw the tears bursting in her eyes and felt the emotion exploding in her heart.

I was so touched that I figured I should do something so she’d never wait endlessly to see people who she cares for so long. Later on, my mum and I decided to buy a desktop for grandma to video chat with family. Buying the desktop was my mum’s job, and, naturally, teaching my grandma how to run that giant metal machine became my job. However, teaching grandparents to use a computer from scratch proved to be quite a challenge, fun though occasionally annoying. I’d hold her hand on the mouse and do the double-click with her, so much like my mum holding my hands to teach me to write when I was little. It always took forever for her to click the second click, but I’d patiently demonstrate again. Gradually, she progressed, but new problem arose—I had to teach her the difference between double-click and single-click so that she wouldn’t double click on everything. After weeks’ practice, she could start the computer, turn on the chatting app and start a video chat all by herself. Hooray! Tough job, but well done.

From that day on, she’d one more thing to do in her life: checking if her granddaughter is online and, if so, starting a video chat. And I was so proud that my hard work eventually paid off, not just because I can be a “teacher” in the field of computer, but because my digital knowledge brought my grandparents into this amazing social network. With my help, they wouldn’t needlessly waste their remaining years on waiting for their granddaughter to come home.

Getting my grandparents connected was more rewarding than any decision I made. Years later, I left my home as well in pursuit of higher education. Even though my grandparents and I are a Pacific Ocean apart, I never feel alone. When I miss home, I’d turn on my computer and a few clicks would get my grandparents onto my little screen. Their voices would fill my room, and their smiles would lighten my heart. And I’d feel as though I had never left.

Maybe my brain is not hardwired to be a computer engineer, but gaining digital literacy has re-defined my life in its own unique way. Developing my digital literacy, I can “send” my thoughts, emotions and feelings to people whom I care anytime and anywhere. Through bringing my family online with my digital knowledge, I engaged even more people into this shared social network and helped them overcome the physical barriers that separate us apart. Indeed, words can transmit emotion and foster stronger bonds. By spreading my words across continents and generations, digital literacy makes my language even more powerful. Whether you are born with talent in technology or not, learning the digital world is inevitable, for in this captivating virtual world, you can always stay connected, have your words heard, and make your feelings tangible.

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