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Gen Gapped

I recently had a strange experience. I was buying cat food and smokes in the Co-op. The new lass is quite young and my card failed. It took three wipes for the chip to work. It’s a bit embarrassing to have your card not clocked by the machine as a cue forms. And note I was buying cat food and a pack of fags – not a Mercedes. Anyway, it worked eventually and I mumbled an apology to the shop assistant. I said something about how I wished they’d never gone “chip and pin” and just kept the magnetic strip. The look was as though I had attempted to broker kitty food and 10 Mayfair using Triskelion Quatloos. She said she’d never known anything but chips. Weird for both of us. I had to show her the vestigal mag strip on my card. It was almost as though (and I’m 40!) I’d had to explain that once I had to drive sheep into town to buy dung. I’m typing this on a lovely little Lenovo bought this year – I wear mirror-shades and am a techno-fetishist of the first water. I grok tech. Having said that my GnatWest (a million pin-pricks) card does the contactless which I just don’t trust despite not being a ludd-not-ist. I want an active transferral of funds and not a vague wave of the card. And that because I understand the tech to the extent to which I understand how it can be subverted. I wonder how she would have reacted if I’d tried to pay in Au*.

So I got gen-gapped. I wonder. And I wonder this. This was a relative gen-gap. OK if me and this girl (I use the term after some thought) were “walking out” then it would be a bit odd due to the age difference but not staggering. But not to bizarre. No, but it does raise a question I used to often ponder… How far back does one have to go that if you “time-scooped” someone they would find the contemporary World utterly baffling? It’s, I think a very interesting question. As an addition to this my wife is probably roughly twice the age of the girl in the Co-op but has never played a vinyl record. As a further question here has this Co-op lass ever played a CD? She’s never used a swipe card

Have any of you had similar experiences? I’d like to know.

*You seen those TV and other ads for “unwanted gold”. Now I’m not a “gold-bug” but does anyone have “unwanted gold”? I mean they might be on their uppers and a tin of beans to feed their kids is more valuable (value is relative to need – the basis of the market). In the context cat-food (4% meat and therefore 96% God knows what was more valuable to me than what was in my bank A/C. Obviously! That is how markets work and must work. Anybody sitting at their computer who has had Mr or Ms Kitty pawing at the return key knows this. So does the cat which is why the little furry buggers do it.


  1. john in cheshire says:

    NickM, do you remember the precursor of the swipe credit card; the paper based procedure with the machine that took an imprint of the embossed details on the card, which the customer then had to sign? As I recall, the scam in ‘them days’ involved capturing the card details off the carbon paper, which was supposed to be discarded after completion of the transaction. All very analogue, one might say. As far as youth is concerned, I have tried telling my nephews about computers from back in the 70s and 80s but they are just not interested. They say things like ‘cool’ in that tone of voice that says I’m not in the least impressed by anything you are saying.

  2. Single Acts of Tyranny says:

    JiC ~ likewise. A power failure recently in a shop meant they youngsters got out the swipe imprint kit and they were all clueless. I instructed them and just managed to hand back the shop’s copy of the receipt when I was given all of it. Like you I wasn’t buying a Mercedes so ethics weren’t sorely tested,

  3. Rob F says:

    I once went out with a girl from Alabama who was 17 years younger than me (I was 36, she was 19), and I was showing her one of my favourite games of all time – Doomdark’s Revenge, on a Speccy emulator. She almost burst out laughing at the graphics, and couldn’t understand why I liked it.

    I also had to translate Coronation Street for her (yes, I’m sad enough to watch it), which was an interesting experience…

  4. Ever tried paing by cheque recently?

  5. Dühh paying.

    But as an after thought, do they even “DO” cheques any more?

    Outside of a “Cahrity event handover” I have not seen one since…Nun… 1985?

  6. Sam Duncan says:

    “I wear mirror-shades and am a techno-fetishist of the first water. I grok tech. Having said that my GnatWest (a million pin-pricks) card does the contactless which I just don’t trust despite not being a ludd-not-ist.”

    This is actually more interesting than the gen-gap thing. Because I don’t think it is simply a generational gap; the old everything-invented-after-you’re-thirty phenomenon. There’s more to it than that. In fact, it’s almost the opposite: it’s not ignorance, but knowledge of some of these things that tells us they’re untrustworthy. I don’t use Facebook or Twitter, for example. Why? Because I saw the NSA thing coming a mile off. (Actually, I was thinking more of criminals, but what’s the diff?) Same with NFC: you’re transmitting bank details, transactions, by radio, in the open air? Using, I might add, low-powered devices whose cryptography is probably, by neccessity, in hardware. Hardware that is, as we now know, riddled with backdoors. Yeah, I don’t care how near the field is, include me out of that, thanks.

    I’m reminded of an article, which I should have bookmarked, by a guy who’s an IT teacher. He was talking about how everyone he meets gives him the old, “Oh, I bet the kids know more than you, eh?”. To which he always has to answer in the negative. They’re actually less clued-up than the mature students he teaches. People our age, between about 35 and 55, generally have a basic understanding; what petrolheads would call “mechanical sympathy”, a “feel” for these things, even if they aren’t out-and-out geeks. But to anyone younger it’s all just magical boxes, the same as for the codgers. We grew up with tech you had to work around, while they’ve been seduced by the Apple/Microsoft philosophy that Universal Turing Machines should be “appliances”. Well, this is where that gets you: a world of ignoramuses.

    You’ve talked before about morlocks and eloi. I really think there’s more to that than the generations.

  7. John Galt says:

    “How far back does one have to go that if you “time-scooped” someone they would find the contemporary World utterly baffling?”

    Thirty years is my guess. Imagine dragging yourself from 30-years ago into 2013 without transition, sure there would be similarities, but the internet, wifi, mobile phones…a lot would be so far beyond your earlier self’s understanding as to be like magic.

    Cue ELO’s Time concept album…

    Remember the good old 1980s?
    When things were so uncomplicated?
    I wish I could go back there again
    And everything could be the same.

    I’ve got a ticket to the moon
    I’ll be leaving here any day soon
    Yeah, I’ve got a ticket to the moon
    But I’d rather see the sunrise in your eyes.

  8. XX Sam Duncan
    September 24, 2013 at 3:03 am

    They’re actually less clued-up than the mature students he teaches. People our age, between about 35 and 55, generally have a basic understanding; XX

    52 myself…well until October 10te. (Bottles of Lambs Navy GRATEFULLY recieved… :-) )

    Look at the ages of those that end up calling the riot squad to an F.B “party”!

    It is NOT us “oldies”, it is those that are MEANT to know how the internet thingy works!

    Or maybe we are just too cynical? (I was BORN that way, but to some it is a matter of experience.)

  9. NickM says:

    Interesting. I agree. I coded on a Speccy. I didn’t play Angry Birds. Or “like” things. Here’s a concrete example. 50 odd thousand folk ran the Great North Run recently. Your timing (non-elite) is based on a near field chip. Fine application but is that at all secure? No, but does it matter? Not really. The NSA or the Norks can know my wife did 2:43 and I fail to see how this could be of any use. Now if the payment for taking part was debited from such a thing as you crossed the start then the capacity for malfeasance is stunning. And where there is the opportunity some bugger will exploit it.

    Dunno. I think the cut-off is further back. I mean wifi for instance is simply computer+radio and a mobile phone is just what Spock called Scotty on. In a weird way I suspect what will be harder perhaps is the things one expected that don’t exist. Such as the development of supersonic airliners.

  10. Dave says:

    It turns out that more than half my office have never had an AOL CD arrive in the mail…

  11. John Galt says:

    “In a weird way I suspect what will be harder perhaps is the things one expected that don’t exist”.

    To paraphrase the above, Where’s my fucking jet pack?

    Completely agree and in some aspects we have regressed during that 30-year period. Certainly we’ve lost the ability for commercial supersonic flight, human space exploration outside of earth orbit, etc.

    The reality is that over any length of time since the industrial revolution there has been a tenor beyond which any “time scooped” individual would be left in shuddering incomprehensibility and that tenor has changed over time. Certainly a someone from 1970 would be more surprised at our lack of progress in space flight, but they would have recognised most of the items in our kitchen.

    It is not the incremental changes which surprise us most, but the paradigm shifts, which are far rarer than the media would have you believe.

    Many people (self-included) now live their lives online via mobile phones and the internet a technology that barely existed 30-years ago. I remember in 1987, getting my first modem a 1200/300 bps from my company and a VT220 terminal that cost more than a months salary each (they were on loan from the company) and I still had to rewire my parents telephone socket by hand to plug the bloody thing in.

    It was a good thing our local exchange was System-X compatible otherwise it probably wouldn’t have worked at all.

    For myself, I want to know why I can’t buy a ticket from Heathrow to Moonbase Alpha at any price. I’d give up the entire internet and mobile phone revolutions for that.

  12. NickM says:

    At the risk of invoking the “Four Yorkshiremen” of lore then yes, things have changed in very odd ways. I’m really interested and I’d like to hear more from folks. Maybe it’s turning 40 but I do wonder about change in stuff like this. More so than “more important” stuff like the Mid-East (which has been tearing itself apart since before I was born around the time of the Yom Kippur War – I mean don’t they get bored with it?). I’m much more interested in new chips from the Intel’s Israeli research centres than eternal beastliness.

  13. John Galt says:

    But the Four Yorkshiremen is about recollection (and exaggeration) of things past rather than considering at what time horizon people from our past would be confounded by our modern society.

    Equally, even if you “time scooped” someone from 1913, I suspect they would find much familiar in terms of technology, a jumbo jet still uses the same basics as the motorized flying machines of 1913.

    I suspect they would be more confused by the changes in society than the technology over that time-period.

    Would bringing someone from 1813 into 1913 far more horrifying for the individual concerned?

  14. NickM says:

    I suspect 1813 ->1913 would be more of a haul than 1913 ->2013.

  15. John Galt says:

    Going back to what Sam Duncan said, there is a certain incongruity in that youngsters using iPhone, iPads and the rest of the consumerized gadgetry are more ignorant of the underlying technology precisely because they don’t care how it works as long as it works, consequently when it stops working they don’t know where to start fixing it.

    At a push I can probably still name all the parts of a Spectrum and correctly diagnose a hardware fault, given a decent circuit diagram and multimeter. Given a replacement part and a soldering iron I could probably fix it. Lets see the kids of today doing that.

    The reason why the UK has rejected every cashless system since Mondex (and probably before) have foundered on the cynicism and lack of trust of the general public. Sure, the teens of any and possibly every generation will use such gimmicks to be cool and rad, but the question is would they still be using it in their 50′s.

    I used to use cards for everything, but since 2009 have switched to withdrawing a wad of cash each month and spending that as it allows me to better manage my finances and protects my privacy.

    That way only me and Adam know how much I spent on champagne and sundries at “The Prancing Fairy”.

    Where’s an EMP device when you need one? Oh, never mind. Here it is…

  16. NickM says:

    Well, JG…. A few years back we were the third largest designer of computer games. We are mow sixth. In ICT classes at schools they specifically teach how to be a computer “consumer”, not a coder or creator. Utterly fucking pathetic. That is why Raspberry Pi was created. Look, if you can’t hack basic coding but know 1-D’s Facetwitter status instead then you have abdicated yourself from even vaguely having the slightest fucking idea how the C21st actually works. It is a dismal state of affairs. It’s like a neolithic sort not knowing the first thing about flint.

  17. Sam Duncan says:

    “Many people (self-included) now live their lives online via mobile phones and the internet a technology that barely existed 30-years ago.”

    Yes. I still find it amazing that I started reading blogs on dialup. With an Amiga. And that this was little more than a decade ago. The Internet, especially broadband and mobile, would amaze someone timescooped from 30 years ago more than you might think, I suspect. The phones would be cool, especially the fact that they’re so cheap, but every SF writer and Boy’s Bumper Book of the Future predicted something like that. It’s Wikipedia, IMDB, and Google Maps that would blow their minds. Hell, Google Earth with Streetview feels like something out of Star Trek to me when I stop to think about it.

    Even among geeks in the ’80s, “comms” was something relegated to a single black-and-white page in the back of magazines for the real hardcore. Few people (some, but few) would have predicted that it would become the very rasion d’etre of the majority of computing devices by the 21st Century, and the driver of the whole industry.

    Now I come to think of it, even something as simple as Freeview would be pretty stunning to anyone for whom the launch of a fourth channel was big news. (As one who could never afford – or justify – Sky, I vividly recall the excitement of plugging in my first DTT box myself, and that was only six or seven years ago. And now I barely watch the thing.)

    So yes, I’d say 30 years minimum. Not that ’80s time travellers would find it utterly baffling, but they’d certainly be aware the world had changed in quite a profound way. They’d probably get used to it though, like we did by taking the long way round. Maybe another 30 for total bewilderment: then you’re back to an era of, off the top of my head, GPO telephones (with waiting lists and party lines), the BBC monopoly (give or take a year or two), trams (the first time round), limited car ownership in Britain at least, and the “jet set” rather than budget airlines. Then again, as you say, John, a lot hasn’t changed and it’s just a matter of extrapolation of what was already around.

    Heh. Mondex. Haven’t heard that name in a while.

  18. Mr Ed says:

    Let’s face it, Michael Faraday facilitated an awful lot.

    He might be truly amazed at how ignorant so many are, particularly when so much is known, and how unabashed they are of their ignorance.

  19. John Galt says:


    “It turns out that more than half my office have never had an AOL CD arrive in the mail…”.

    We are definitely entering Four Yorkshiremen territory here, but before there was an AOL CD it was on floppy, usually attached to the front of a PC mag, this would be about 1993.

    An original v1.0 AOL floppy is apparently worth several thousand dollars in pristine condition.

    Oh for a time machine..

  20. Sam Duncan says:

    “you have abdicated yourself from even vaguely having the slightest fucking idea how the C21st actually works.”

    I remember protesting to someone or other about 20-odd years ago that television was important because it was where modern life took place. If an alien species wanted to know about human society, they’d have to watch TV. It was true at the time. But it didn’t really matter then whether you knew how the gogglebox worked because even if you did, what could you do with that knowledge? Set up your own channel? Unlikely. The best you could do was become a TV repairman: a noble trade to be sure, but somewhat limited.

    But now, human life takes place on the internet. TV’s still around, sure, but like radio before it, it’s no longer top dog. And the internet is Different: it’s not a top-down technology. There are servers and clients, yes, but they communicate: not only is your computer/phone/iThing interpreting what’s sent to it (in a way that can be manipulated by you, the user, rather than simply displaying it blindly), it’s also sending stuff back. So unlike a broadcast technology, knowing how it works helps you to use it better as a consumer.

    And kids aren’t even being told about this. You’d almost think the government’s education system wanted passive unthinking consumption of information for some reason…

    (Having said all that, in my experience the actual level of ignorance is even worse than simply not knowing how it works, being more on the “Wait… my car has lights?” scale than the changing-a-spark-plug one, but that’s a whole other rant.)

  21. XX The best you could do was become a TV repairman:XX

    Do they still have them?

    Here, if the T.V goes pear shaped we just throw it out and buy a new one.

    Here is another one to add to the Gen gap list; T.V rental firms! Do they still have THEM?

  22. Single Acts of Tyranny says:

    Things like space flight and supersonic passenger craft (on a large scale anyway, not sure about Learjets) don’t exist because there is no commercial driver that overcomes the technological difficulties and costs. The government could fund either, but look how much that cost with Concorde or Apollo. But as technology improves and gets cheaper, it will come.

  23. John Galt says:

    “but look how much that cost with Concorde or Apollo”

    Fair point. It is only now with the latest generation of private investment in space flight that we are seeing a way back into space, which might well result in a route for civilians to escape the gravity well. We’re still in the equivalent of the “wright brothers era” of space exploration, but we’re on the right path.

    As for supersonic passenger jets, Concorde was fantastic technology, but because of the “not invented here” attitude of the US, never really took off. If she’d been built by Boeing then there would probably be a couple of hundred of them flying today.

    Equally, with privately funded rocket engines like SABRE under sub-scale ground testing we might see a sub-orbital commercial rocket ship which does London->Sydney under 2-hours yet.

    The beauty of capitalism is that it supports specialisation, but at the cost of fewer-and-fewer people knowing the details of how the mechanism works. I often wonder if the Americans would have been first on the moon if Sergei Korolev had lived.

  24. Eddie Willers says:

    My personal example of this ‘time-scooping’ came in 2005. While on a cruise ship I was, with other passengers, allowed to visit certain working parts of the ship. I was chatting with the main tech guy in the theatre – as impressively equipped to handle large productions as anything on dry land.

    I was goo-goo for the all digital method of recording and editing sound-effects. I explained to the guy (who was around 24) how we had been doing this in the ‘past’ (as late as 1991 – just 14 years before) by means of magnetic tape (on a venerable Revox B77 or, if the place had more $$, a Studer PR99), cut with a razor blade then joined with sticky tape…he looked dumbfounded, like it was too much for him to comprehend as his eyes flashed ‘razor blades and sticky tape…DOES NOT COMPUTE’ and I let the conversation slide, feeling very old all of a sudden.

  25. john malpas says:

    Of course you all have lost free speech, keep the money you earn ( or most of it) family life and patriotism.
    You live on the ‘air promised crammed’ as someone said.

    —-(Born 1935) and not impressed with progress.

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