Monday, January 18, 2010

Interesting Times, or Living in the Future

Interesting Times
If I may be serious for a moment, and at the risk of sounding like granddad ranting at Christmas dinner, kids these days are really missing out, and they either don't know or don't care. Walk around any school. Take your pick of any elementary or middle school, just make sure to dress in conspicuously friendly clothes. We don't want anyone slapped with a restraining order or registered as a sex offender. If you just take things in for a moment you will notice nary a kid without a phone, ipod, blackberry, notebook, netbook, iphone or some other electronic do-da or gadget designed to keep them connected to the digital broadcast-net. What I will call here, the 'broadnet.' I know that sounds like a low-end porn channel, but hang with me for a moment.

People of a certain age, such as myself, have a really interesting perspective on the development of our ability to interact without connecting. Let me explain that a little bit, and just for kicks I'll stick with the 'granddad ranting at dinner' motif. When I was their age we didn't have all these fancy cell phones and knick-knacks. If we wanted to look stuff up, we went to the library. If we wanted to talk to someone on the phone, we left a message on an answering machine or actually talked with that person so they would know when we'd be home and could call. If we wanted to hang out, we actually got together instead of logging on to Facespace or MyBook, or whatever the hell these kids are calling it.

The point being, we got outside. We connected. It can be argued that we're more connected now than ever, thanks to the Broadnet (like the use of capitalization there? Thanks.). I would argue the reverse is true. We don't connect. We don't get personal. Young people these days may have more friends than ever, if a lengthy friends-list on Twitspace (wow. that works better than I expected) is any indication, but all of those people are kept at a safe distance.

The saddest manifestation of this is something my wife commented on at some point. She happened to be passing by a couple of girls who were on lunch from school. These two girls had cell phones out and were giggling like mad while they sent a flurry of text messages, the accumulated cost of which will likely be larger than the GDP of a small country. What she discovered as she listened to their chatter, was they weren't texting to friends who were in class, or at another school, or out sick. They were texting each other.

It might sound strange for someone who works in a technology related field to say this, but I don't believe that technology is bringing us together. Sure, I can talk to a developer in Indonesia about a project without ever dialing an actual phone, and that's pretty cool. I can talk to him about the rainy season and whether or not he had a good weekend, and it's kind of fun to think that I'm hearing a voice from the future (his timezone is fifteen hours ahead of us in Southern California). On the other hand, I remember getting along pretty well when there was no Internet. Games? Just because it didn't come on a disc didn't mean there weren't games. If you wanted something to do, you went outside and found something to do, rather than plopping down in front of the TV and zoning out to bubble-headed celebrity infotainment spoon-fed to us by model-gorgeous women sporting two degrees with a 'D' average.

I think if we want to do kids a favor, or do something really great for them it would be to take them camping out where there is no cell coverage and no electricity. Even if they have their iphones and laptops, there's no signal and no way to recharge them. Take them out there, play games outside (who remembers hide and seek, or flashlight tag after it gets dark), and sleep out under the stars. Give them some perspective. Some of them might even come around. I bet they'd even tweet about it when they get home.


  1. Everything is so immediate these days... and we have less and less patience with technology and with each other.

    I gotta echo most of your thoughts, getting kids away from cell phones and computers and internet games and sticking them in the wilderness for a week would do them well. Let's hope that on Outdoor Ed they're not allowed to bring their cell phones, eh?

  2. I know, right?! hehe!

    We don't even have to go so far as taking them camping. Just take them to Amish country where I've heard a few families will have a rotary dial phone out in the barn (for calling shops in town when they need to place or fill orders for their amazing quilts & cheeses etc.) Their little minds will explode just trying to figure out how to use such a low-tech phone!

  3. Hell. Let them bring their cell phones camping! There's no signal, and no way to recharge the cell batteries. After a week in the wilderness they're just useless hunks of plastic that serve no real purpose. There's an element of shadenfreude to watching kids cry over dead iPhones, but it would also be a valuable learning experience. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!