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Once upon a quiet Easter dinner, there was talk of Things That Should Not Be Mentioned. That is, computers and cell phones and e-mail, oh my!

Now, my grandmother is incredibly wise to all the new technologies for someone who’s never owned a computer. I think she reads enough to confirm that she doesn’t want one. I have no doubts that she could teach me a thing or two about the IT field (or pretty well anything else under the sun, for that matter). She’s about the only person who could interest me in a discussion of tech stuff on my day off (note the singular use of “day”).

The other participant in this little talk was my Uncle Mike, who installs and repairs sprinkler systems for a living. The nature of his work demands that he spends many a weekend on call, and he could not be without his cellphonepagerwalkietalkie interstellar communication device. You know, one of those things that invariably goes off as soon as you sit down to dinner or crawl into bed. As a devout family man, self-proclaimed computer illiterate, and guy whose favourite pastime is, quite literally, stopping to smell the roses, he’s an unlikely candidate to be a slave to technology.

So there we were, hoping and praying that this little device wouldn’t start beeping and beam him out of there, when my grandmother began to recall the empty promises that technology made to her generation.

“Sundays used to be the only day we had off. Then we got to work half days on Saturdays and that was just great! By the time we had all of Saturday off, we were waiting to get Friday off too and have a nice long weekend. But that never happened. It seems to have swung back the other way now, with so many people working Saturdays.”

About this time I caught notice of the TV, which was running Jesus Christ Superstar at low volume and, ostensibly, without being intrusive. It was at the scene in which Jesus becomes enraged by the merchants selling outside the Temple, and overturns their tables, putting an end to the Sabbath day commerce. I muttered something about how we haven’t come a very long way in 2000 years.

Uncle Mike agreed and put forth that for a society that is so over-educated, we aren’t very smart. He’s right, you know. We stay in school longer to work more hours for less money. Why do we do it? Do the Things That Beep have so much authority?

Well, dinner was excellent, and we were relieved that no one had to beam out of there and go to work. But technology seemed an inescapable theme as my brother got out a digital camera and started snapping candids (including one of me lying on the couch and holding my belly). This translated into the later amusement of some Photoshop trickery that put my hair on Uncle Mike’s head, and the like.

My brother offered to burn a CD of the images for Uncle Mike’s family to take home. Uncle Mike mused that if he had an e-mail account, we could just send them over….”But maybe that’s not a good idea. If I had e-mail, I’d probably have to check it all the time. What if I got an urgent e-mail?”

To steal a quote from ComputerWorld editor Gail Balfour, “Is there really such a thing?”

Just before it was time to leave, Uncle Mike’s young daughter, my five-year-old cousin Christine, noticed my folded laptop and asked what it was.

“It’s a little computer.”

“I wanna see!”

I opened it up and she asked me what the “little screen” was, pointing at the touchpad. I told her it was like a mouse, and that was all she needed to know. Off she went, using it to aim the cursor like it was nothing new. Most kids that age aren’t as adept at crayons and scissors.

I started out at her age too, playing games like “Gorf” on a Commodore Vic 20. But Christine will have a jump-start on things even my generation took years to develop and learn. She’s been born into an era where the potential for self-education is greater than it ever was. I can only hope it doesn’t come at too high of a price. When she’s learning so much on a computer, what is she not learning about the world?

I don’t worry too much though, because I know her dad will make sure that she knows what all the flowers smell like.

Cooney works as a programmer/analyst for a major Canadian book publisher. He can be reached at