Blazing trails in electronic depersonalization
Vail, CO, Colorado
I imagine a line of old folks in, say, the year 2077. They are queuing up at a clinic that specializes in two main things: crossed eyes and gnarled fingers. Yes, these oldsters, today’s teenagers, will be paying the price for all the years they spent text-messaging one another instead of the relatively symptom-free method of speaking to one another directly.
They will also be mostly deaf from iPods at high volume, broke from outsourced jobs, pointless wars and the collapse of Social Security, and quasi-autistic from so many years of avoiding genuine human interaction in favor of various electronic proxies. Their planet will be flooding, burning and melting, they will all weigh 300 pounds and none of them will be able to do simple addition or find their own state on a map.
At least, though, they will have cheap Chinese-made robots to do yard work and serve them hamburgers.
Sounds like a decent premise for a sci-fi novel, right? Like most parents, I spend time on occasion wondering what our children’s world will look like ” but I’m limited by only really knowing what today is. In 1976 when I was 12, it seemed like the future was a lot of American flags wrapped around CB radios while Peter Frampton played an endless guitar solo and everyone wore gauchos and leisure suits. Certainly no one then was predicting that, in 30 years, teenagers would communicate almost exclusively with Star Trek-like devices, that they’d all have computers and eschew Coke for caffeine- and taurine-laden “energy drinks.”
And who knew the turntable and LP album was going to go the way of the silent movie? My wife and I still have boxes of the damn things in the garage, imagining a day when we’ll buy a record player and give our E.L.O. and Partridge Family albums a final, scratch spin before concluding what we already know: They belong in the trash.
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
It’s funny, isn’t it, to talk about the days of remote-less TVs and a cell-phone-less landscape and watch kids look at you the same way we looked at gramps when he told us about the Depression, or street cars or when the Lusitania was sunk.
Watching our 16-year-old text his girlfriend non-stop all day and all night, I have to be careful not to sound too fogey-ish when I express amazement at the manner in which they’re conducting this relationship ” if that’s what you want to call it. They even sometimes use Skype video and talk face to face. She’s going to school in Colorado Springs, but she could ” and may as well be ” in China.
There’s a study going on some where now, I imagine, that’s testing whether this generation is developing some kind of brainwave patterns that enable them to establish as much emotional intimacy electronically as we used to do in person. The results will be either that they have suffered no loss in interpersonal connections and people skills because of this ” or they have, but it’s OK because it will better prepare them for interacting with their robot servants in the future.
It’s always tempting for parents to compare our experiences as kids with those of our children ” as our parents did before us. Some will resist, enact bans and other sorts of artificial constructs to rein-in the new-fangled stuff we don’t understand. Others will shrug and let the train roll on as it will. The best bet, though, is to jump on board a bit and try to understand it. Hop on the caboose so you’re not too much in the way. Get a MySpace page, text them with a happy note or a chore once in a while.
And please, strike the phrase “Well, when I was a kid …” from your lineup ” and get rid of the LPs in the basement.
Alex Miller can be reached at email@example.com.