The story of how an older generation began to deal with newer technologies.

The old man stared at his foe on the battlefield. It looked back at him with impassionate, cold eyes, eyes that had gazed upon many a dead combatant over the years. However, it might be argued that the impassionate look came from an enemy who didn't possess eyes in the first place. It might also be argued that it was made of metal and plastic, thus the coldness, but the mere fact that the enemy was, in fact, an 80 GB iPod, made no difference to the old man.

He had grown up in a different era, a period that trained its apprentice soldiers to turn large knobs that produced, at various angles, cacophonic bursts of static occasionally interspersed with the whiny sound of someone saying “Akashvani.” The transition from valve radios to pocket transistors had itself necessitated the learning of a new skill, the ability to adjust a retractable antenna with the finesse of an orchestra conductor just so one could make out how much damage Garfield Sobers had done to the Indian team at Chepauk.

But in the 1980s, when his company sent him to Singapore on business, he came back with a contraption that he vaguely knew could convert small back cases of plastic into moving pictures on a TV. The family had kept hinting that they needed one in order to maintain “gadget parity” with their neighbours, so he coughed up hard-earned (RBI- and Finance Ministry-controlled) foreign exchange to buy a “National” VCR. Having conquered pocket transistors and two-in-ones, the VCR presented a whole new level of challenge. It was like meeting the final boss in Level 2 of a video game. It thwarted his every attempt to tame it. The old man felt like that first Cro-Magnon chap who tried to tame a snarling wolf into a friendly dog. The VCR's tiny calculator-like display blinked 0:00 in defiance, smirking at the old man, taunting him. “Set me if you can.”

Challenge accepted, said our man, and proceeded to use his first sword, common sense. He tried reading the button labels and assumed that the industrious Japanese would surely have made something as mundane as “setting the clock” a simple task. But after several “logical” attempts, the clock stayed defiantly at 0:00. Still blinking. And smirking.

He then tried brute force. Perhaps the Japs had designed buttons that behaved differently if more newtons per square cm were employed. No such luck. He then attempted reading the instruction manual but his English, garnished with school-level Shakespeare and college-level Keats, bowed meekly to the Japanese ability to construct sentences that made no sense. Our man was humiliated. His foe continued to laugh at him, flashing the 0:00 like a fleur-de-lys. That was when a seminal event occurred. His younger son, all of six years old, set the clock with an ease that suggested supernatural Samurai and Ninja skills to our man. He could not figure out how the conventional wisdom of several thousand years of fathers considering their male offspring essentially useless was turned on its head by an arcane combination of a six-year-old's key strokes that tamed a recalcitrant 0:00.

That's when the old man knew he wasn't a digital native. And slowly, and grudgingly, he let his son deal with gadgetry. Their first mobile phone, one that required no less than 20 button presses to bring up a contact. Their first computer, riddled with so many viruses that it developed a bizarre form of electronic immunity thanks to his son's vaccination efforts.

And now, he found himself with an email attachment, an mp3 recording of his granddaughter's arangetram in San Jose, and the new-age challenge of figuring out how to move that to his iPod. He sighed, checked the time in California, and dialled his son.

Keywords: Apple iPod