If you have teenagers or grown kids around your house, put them to use! Do like I do. Think of them as smartly wired breathing tools that can help you manage life’s complexities, including the tech ones.
They’re free, seeing as you’ve already paid for them. They update automatically, without your having to remember your damned password, and they offer personalized preferences, without thumbing through 76 pages of legal hoopla that nobody has ever read. You don’t have to own an iPhone to click on these handy apps.
True, virtual apps and other technologies don’t snicker, smirk, giggle or roll their eyes. But relying on your homegrown apps is better than enduring 20 minutes of hold-time for a tech support representative who might know even less than your child.
If you have a son and a daughter, think of them as part of your diversified portfolio. My children are my apps for music, live events, fashion, organization, editing, stock tips and more.
(More: How to Overcome Fear of Technoloy)
Every young adult intuitively understands what we don’t. If you have two or more kids, you may have competing apps, all the better. I’ve already mined my knowledge. Now I’m fracking my kids’ talents for my own benefit. You can, too.
To get your kids to serve as your apps, you need to be cunning: Start with a topic they love.
My daughter, Rachel Wood, is my fashion app, taking care of my look and feel. When she’s at the house and we’re about to head out, she frequently asks the question that a mother usually reserves for her wacky teenager: “Is this what you’re planning to wear?”
“That’s the plan,” I say.
She then gives me a knowing nod and accompanies me back to the closet — think security guard and ex-employee. There, “we” find something more appropriate for me to wear.
Without Rachel, I’d still be dressing in classic baggy — but not in a stylish way — pants and long-sleeved jersey of any hue between purple and mud blue. Without her I’d never know how to tie a scarf just so. How else would I know whether pants should flare or come in at the ankles, or that my beach bag, which she calls a hobo bag, is now hip again?
Some apps prove useful over the long haul. Years ago, long before iPhone, we allowed Rachel to take a lesson in tempering chocolate. By the time she was 18 she was interning with the dessert chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif.
Filled with the hope of reverse engineering, my sister and I thought Rachel could impart her knowledge to us. We scribbled notes as the former child chef whipped up a simple French raspberry tart. It was at about step 17 that I concluded pastry making involved knowledge, attention to detail and an ingredient I lack: patience. Since then I’ve handed over dessert chores for family gatherings to the person who knows how to clarify butter.
Although she’s in the field of public policy, Rachel is now the designated 3D dessert app.
When she was 8, Rachel displayed another trait that has proven useful: organization. When she folded her clothes into perfect, right-angled stacks I thought there was something terribly wrong. Was she depressed or acting out? How could a child of mine be so innately neat?
Today, I’m constantly tapping into my favorite organization app. Rachel has vacuumed up my balsamic vinegar-stained recipe pages and turned them into a fat notebook marked MOM’S RECIPES, with color-coded dividers. And she transferred family videos onto handy-dandy CDs, I mean, DVDs. (Note to daughter: Thanks for the correction.)
My musician son, Jacob Wood, who is also a born journalist, is my editing app. Before sending pitches or stories, I have him edit them. I make him risotto when he’s around, and he finds ways to improve my copy.
And hear me out here, kids are great stock pickers. Really. Ya know how Warren Buffett says he buys only what he understands, well, your grown-up kids understand things you don’t. Seven years ago, when Rachel was still a teenager, she saw the upside of iPods and told me I must buy Apple, then at 65. This year, a few weeks before Facebook went public, Jake, seeing a long, slide in young people’s interest, told me not to buy FB. I listened to her and I wish I’d listened to him.
And don’t forget the reason you probably had kids in the first place: tech support.
Your daughter can show you how to hold private conversations on Facebook and how to de-friend the dork who reports when it’s raining; your son can take that new laptop and explain, ya know, like, how it works.
Who else but your sons and daughters will tell you, “You don’t befriend people on Facebook, you friend them.”
Who else will explain how to ask a question on Quora, the website that allows you to ask questions?
Who else will tell you why, after six months of posting images on Instagram, you only have four followers, one of whom is your second cousin?
When I asked Jake to help me find music, he made it his project. A professional rock drummer, he bought me a hard drive and loaded it with 1,385 songs. Then he did what I probably couldn’t or wouldn’t do, he uploaded the music to my iPhone. And what do you know, I came to love Cake and Radiohead, which I’ve been told carries some street cred down on Hipster Avenue.
When Jake has a major gig in town my partner and I always show, even though we’re the oldest people rocking out. And there’s the bonus that when we have our wrists stamped at the entrance to the venue, the ticket taker still cards me. And yes, it’s dark, but still.
The prospects are endless. I love my iChild.