I think we can all agree that the internet has ruined everything, but the scope of the problem is rarely appreciated.
For example, it has disrupted our family traditions – killing off the family dinner table chat, the reading of books, and the greatest tradition of all, lying to our children.
This was once one of the true joys of parenting, taking advantage of the gentle, wide-eyed innocence of children to tell them all sorts of guff about how big a fish we had once caught, or our role in the invention of television.
My Grandmother used to delight in telling us tales of ‘Cousin Pat’, who was very tall. In fact, to hear her tell it, he was about 23 feet tall and regularly stepped over cattle fences, houses, the Story Bridge; he would have been dynamite in the NBA (in her defence, I suspect she actually believed these stories).
My Dad was the absolute king of this, so skilled at the art of the tall tale that my brother and I soon learned to doubt any story he told us. Not so my cousin Kathy, who would listen wide-eyed as Dad related some story with all the credibility of a net zero target.
Eventually she would turn to my Mum and ask, “Did he really, Aunty Ann?”, and Mum would confirm that, no, Dad hadn’t climbed out on the wing of a flying 747 to rescue a kitten that had fallen out of a space station.1
For my friends and me, however, lying to kids is much harder. You can be half-way through your story about how to get to school you had to walk 15 miles through the snow, fighting off velociraptors with nunchaku,2 and after consulting Google the kids say they don’t believe you because they know that velociraptors weren’t invented until 1993 when the movie Jurassic Park was released.
Not that it is difficult to convince your kids that you had it harder than them – just turn off the Wi-Fi, although as a precaution first secure all the sharp implements in the house and pre-order an ambulance, because they will attack you. Modern kids are astonished that we survived without Wi-Fi, although it does help them understand why we are such dorks.
My wife and I don’t even have to go that far with our kids, as we only got Wi-Fi relatively recently, meaning they experienced the before time when the ancients read books and spoke to one another; they were not fans of it.
They also regard the fact that we did not get Wi-Fi earlier, preferably installed in the womb, as a clear transgression of human rights constituting cruel and unusual punishment. They are still astonished that the United Nations has done nothing.3
Indeed, I suspect that when my kids are considering which home to put me into, the late adoption of Wi-Fi will feature far more prominently in their decision-making than the times I took them to the park or the beach.
I figure I will end up in a place with a name like Crazy Pete’s Luxury Retirement Village and Car Wash, which will go on to feature on an expose by A Current Affair4 revealing the residents being forced to make fake Gucci handbags and wallets .
Not being able to easily lie to children is not the only way in which we have it harder than our ancestors of course. Sure, they fought wars, dealt with prejudice and endured the Whitlam Government attempting to borrow the national budget from a loan shark who turned out to have left his money in his other jacket, but still.
What about our trials and tribulations, the stuff our grandparents couldn’t possibly imagine, the horrors we deal with, the things that, now that I start to write about them, aren’t nearly as obvious as I had hoped?
For a start, there’s chuggers. For those of you who aren’t as ‘down’ and ‘legit’ with ‘street lingo’ and ‘quotation marks’ as I am, ‘chuggers’5 are those people who accost you on the street in an effort to get you to donate money to some charity like ‘Doctors for the innocent victims of toenail-clipper-induced septicaemic amputations’. Except they don’t want cash money, or cheques, or gold bars; they want your credit card details and an amendment to your will to keep the cash coming long after you are dead.
Just imagine going to your bank to try and sort out the fact that the bank has noticed ‘unusual activity’6 on your card, and confessing that you handed over your card information to an unshaven chugger who said you had a nice shirt.
The bank people will look at you as if you were Joe Biden attempting to explain his policy on Taiwan, and then gently enquire whether you also exchanged your mother’s cow for three magic beans.
Chuggers always start with complimenting your apparel, but you should take this with a grain of salt, as they want your money and will say pretty much anything to get it. A chugger will say, ‘love your outfit!’ even if you are wearing a dress made of discarded COVID masks held together by rusty paper clips. It is unlikely that the banks will consider this an excuse to hand over credit card information.
Chuggers are also all blessed with those bright, perky, faux-nice personalities that will ensure they are first on the menu when the plane crash-lands in the Alps, even if there is plenty of food and the rescuers are only 20 minutes away. I suspect chuggers are aspiring commercial radio DJs who have not yet quite developed that grating, bone-jarringly annoying, make-you-vote-for-the-death-penalty-as-long-as-it-applies-only-to-them personality that marks a truly successful radio presenter.
The modus operandi7 of most chuggers is to lurk at natural pedestrian bottlenecks and seek to subtly catch your eye by waving, praising your fashion sense and jumping directly in front of you with a hand stuffed into their jacket pocket in such a way as to suggest that they have a gun.
Veteran denizens of the city know that to make eye contact is to be subjected to a spiel so perky, upbeat and bubbly that, were you given a time machine, you would go back to the past and kill the chugger’s grandparents, even if the resultant alteration to the space-time continuum led to Meghan Markle becoming Prime Minister.
To avoid this, people often angle away from the chugger, who – wearing the fixed grin usually associated with chainsaw operators in low-budget horror movies – pursues them, at an exponentially brisk walking pace. People will walk through gardens, across occupied restaurant tables and into rapidly moving traffic to avoid contact with a chugger.
So chuggers are just one thing that our grandparents didn’t have to deal with in their day, although given that, depending on how old you are, your grandparents fought World War 2, the Korean war or the Vietnam war, and had greater access to lethal weaponry, so may have dealt with chuggers differently (not that I am suggesting anything).
Indeed, maybe the way to deal with chuggers is to put them in the armed forces. They’d be cheap, and I suspect very effective. Let’s face it, it will be hard for our enemies to fight effectively while they are fiddling with their watches, pretending to get calls on their phones or staring furiously into the distance at things that aren’t there in an effort to avoid eye contact with our advancing chugger army.
We’ll have overrun their country before they dare to look up – or alternatively the chuggers will have signed up a couple of enemy battalions to $30 per month charity deductions, and that is win-win in anyone’s book.
© Shane Budden 2021
1 It sounded way more believable when Dad told it.
2 I mean we had the nunchaku, not that the velociraptors had them; that’d just be silly.
3 Kids these days are told that the UN actually does stuff, a rare modern instance of successfully lying to children.
4 Still hosted by Tracy Grimshaw.
5 OK, I’ll stop.
6 Such as the entire contents of the local bottle shop, 23 pizzas, and a delivery fee to a nearby backpackers, being charged to your card.
7 Latin for, ‘put this term in italics’.