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Monday, May 25, 2020
Boomers are booming!

Keeping Up

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By Paula Moore Hurtt, Web Content Writer

     My husband, son and I recently traveled by ship from Boston to Montreal, Canada.

     It was a great trip.  The weather up north was cool and cloudy.  A couple of nights, we even had the pleasure of the ship's fog horn blowing every two minutes. But we didn't mind it at all.  We were glad to get out of the Ohio Valley Sauna. 

     As we made our way to or through five different airports on our trips to and from home  (Louisville, Newark, Boston, Chicago and Montreal), I found myself explaining to my son how airline travel has changed since I first flew back in the seventies.

     I told him how air travel was a kinder, gentler experience back in the day before terrorists and computer technology. It didn't seem as rushed, and we didn't feel so crowded and pushed around. We flew the friendly skies!

     Good customer service was expected and most often received.  Ticket agents smiled. Flight attendants (which we then called stewardesses) smiled. Seat mates were polite. Never in our wildest dreams would we have imagined having to take off our shoes, belts and jewelry!  I found myself lamenting long and loud about how times have changed for the worse.

     By the end of our trip, however, I began to have a change of heart.

     The Montreal airport is the most automated airport I've ever experienced.  There are no ticket agents standing by the check-in machines to help you go through the prompts on the screen.  You're expected to figure it out on your own.  Only after you scan your passport, credit card or electronic ticket receipt and receive your boarding passes, luggage receipt and credit card receipt from the machine do you approach an actual human being. 

     The ticket agent tags your luggage and sends you on your way with your luggage to another computer monitor/reader where you scan your documents again and load your luggage on the conveyor belt yourself.  Then it's off to security where their version of a TSA agent uses another machine to check you through and you go through the usual shoes off/Superman X-ray vision machine process. 

     From there it's on to another computer monitor/reader where you scan your passport, then stand in front of the machine while it "looks" at you and compares your passport photo with what it sees on the monitor.  This was my first experience with facial recognition software. My husband even made a funny face, and it still recognized him!  It's creepy! I can't put names to the faces of half the friends I run into at WalMart anymore! 

     Every step of the check-in and security process was at least partly automated, and every step of the way, my husband and I found ourselves hesitating, maybe even struggling a bit with each new computer screen we faced. Which document did the machine want? Which way to put the document in the machine?  What prompt button to hit next?  How to back up and start over when we made a mistake?

     Thank goodness we had our 30 year old son with us.  He was remarkably patient with us through the whole electronic maze we went through to fly out of Montreal.  But, a couple of times he couldn't hold back a sigh.  That's OK.  I remember sighing in frustration at my own parents on occasion.  And I don't think he'd mind my sharing his telling me not long ago that some of the newest technology is not as easy for him to grasp as it is for today's kids.  At 30 he already feels it passing him by.  That's how fast technology is moving.

     When we finally got through check-in, security and customs, I found myself reflecting on the experience.  Yes, it's a big change from the way things used to be.  But, in reality, at least at Pierre Trudeau International Airport, the system works beautifully and smoothly.  If you had a line of 20 somethings and 30 somethings who weren't intimidated by the automation, it would speed the whole process up considerably and reduce the long wait lines and subsequent impatience and frustration. 

     "But, wait!," I thought.  "That's not fair!  They've designed this system so that we older folks can't use it!  It's just for the younger folks!" 

     Then I realized how silly that thought was.  Of course we can keep up with the automation!  Our great-grandparents managed to keep up when their horses and buggies were replaced by automobiles.  Our grandparents managed to learn how to use refrigerators instead of root cellars and ice boxes.  Our parents managed to keep up when they stopped using long distance telephone operators and party lines.  And we managed to keep up when those first hulking computers were set down in front of us in our offices and factories.

     Sure we grew up in an analog world.  We were getting up and turning the channel changer on the TV (click, click, click) when our young brains were developing.  We manipulated toggle switches, pushed buttons that actually moved under our fingers, pulled chains to switch on overhead lights, used levers and pulleys on the farm and turned dials on our transistor radios.  So, that's how our brains were wired. That's why the digital world can be tough and somewhat intimidating for some of us.  But, that doesn't mean we can't update our own internal software.  Maybe it's time for some re-wiring.

     I for one don't want to be THAT old lady. You know the one. She's in line at the airport struggling to get through that electronic maze, unable to follow the directions on the screen, giving up in frustration and embarrassment and asking for help every step of the way while wishing for the good old days.  All the while the young folks stand behind her tapping their feet, texting, talking on the phone and checking the news on their smart watches all at the same time. 
     I'm smart enough to do this.  I choose to keep up. We all should, and we all can.

     After all, we're Boomers!  We put a man on the moon in 1969!