The Day I Became Too Old for the Internet
Old man shakes fist at app.
Recently, two things happened to me. First, I turned 60, the age at which it’s simply no longer possible to lay claim to youthfulness. Second, I downloaded Clubhouse, the red-hot app of the pandemic era. I was unprepared for how these two events would become related in my mind.
For those of you who are either oldsters like me or simply out of touch and therefore unfamiliar with Clubhouse, the app allows its users—initially only a few celebrities and venture capitalists allowed in by invitation only, now anyone with a phone—to participate in or just eavesdrop on conversations using their device’s audio.
Of course, with my usual impeccable timing, I signed up just at the time Clubhouse began laying off employees, its future in question.
The signup process was simple, smooth and admirably user-centric. Until that is, they asked for my age. I gave an honest answer, and instantly the following message popped up: “You’re 60 years old? If this is not correct, go back and update your age.”
Now the good folks at Clubhouse assure me that since May, everybody who signs up for the app sees such an age verification screen. It’s not aimed at ferreting out old-timers. But for those of us of a certain not-young age, the popup message, phrased in the form of what seems to be an incredulous question, stings a bit.
It would be easy to fix this issue. For example, the response simply could have been: “You entered 60 as your age. If this is not correct, go back and update your age.”
When you’re my age, you get used to things like having to scroll down endlessly to reach your year of birth on online forms. But things like this just add insult to injury. Because, you see, this isn’t my first digital rodeo. I’ve been around since before there was a World Wide Web, and have seen a lot of websites, apps and entire companies come and go. Remember Second Life, Napster, Kozmo, AOL Instant Messenger, Netscape Navigator and, heck, even Internet Explorer? I do.
So gather ’round, young’uns, while I tell you the story of how I was once the early adopter whose message to my elders was to get out of the way while I ushered in the future. It goes all the way back to April 1995—that’s right, a whole other millennium—when I wrote an article for Government Executive magazine (a “magazine” is a non-interactive content delivery mechanism involving ink and paper) called “The Lure of the Web.” I also made the regrettable decision to appear in the opening graphic of the article—trapped in a digital spider web via an early-stage Photoshop.
I felt the need to declare at the outset of the piece, with a heavy dose of irony, that I was not a geek, but just a regular guy who had just a passing familiarity with digital life. Nearly a quarter-century later, I can imagine the response if I wrote the same thing: “Yeah, Methuselah, we know.”
I have nothing against Clubhouse. It’s clearly popular with a wide range of people, including federal employees and contractors. As for the signup process, I choose to believe that the app used my phone’s front-facing camera to analyze my face, and then decided to compliment me by observing that I couldn’t possibly be 60 years old. In return, I offer a compliment of my own: Congratulations on inventing the conference call.