Posted by Ian Jukes
“When I was your age, I had to wait for the hourly report on TV in order to get the information that you have right at your fingertips. That’s the problem with the world today.”
It was the summer of 2012, and I was standing in the kitchen with my dad and sister — holding my iPhone — a towel and bathing suit thrown over my shoulder. I had just finished reading aloud the full-day weather report, and, until my dad spoke, had nothing on my mind but the gleaming pool water that seemed to be calling my name. I waited a moment for his comment to process, then looked down at my phone, analyzing it in a way that I had never before: feeling the cold, hard, metal in my palm, and the smooth, sleek screen underneath my thumb.
I asked Dad to elaborate on his comment.
When I was a young boy, we had a pool in our backyard. My brothers and I weren’t allowed to go swimming until the temperature reached 75 degrees — not one degree less. And so us boys spent our summer mornings waiting by the TV for the hourly report that read the temperature, praying that it would say the number we wanted it to so that we could dive in. I have vivid memories of those mornings.
Suddenly, life in the 1970s seemed distant, and people detached. It occurred to me that my dad has experienced life like I will never know it, and that I have experienced life like my children will never know. I even started to think about how things have changed in the years that I’ve been alive. It’s not just technology that’s changing, either: it’s our way of living. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, and it’s only becoming clearer as the years go by.
Gradually, evenings spent doing homework at lamp-lit desks covered in pencils, paper and textbooks are turning into late nights under bedsheets and blankets, a Google Docs page pulled up, fingers typing aggressively on a keyboard that can barely be seen in the dark. It seems as though I am part of the last generation that will know the satisfied feeling of stapling together a completed research paper, pages still warm from the printer. People of the next generation will never go on a family trip to the local Blockbuster in search of candy and a comedy for movie night. They might miss out on handwritten letters from their grandparents, available to read and re-read for years. Do we even realize what we’re all leaving behind?
This morning, I was sitting at the breakfast table eating cereal when my dad came in to say goodbye before he left for work. When he saw that I was eating Life cereal, a huge smile immediately crept across his face, and he started excitedly reciting a commercial that he remembered from his childhood. He called me into his office, where he threw himself down in front of his desktop computer to search for the ad on YouTube, eager to take me back in time with him.
Watching the commercial, my modernly-adjusted ears picked up on a faint hum in the background of the actor’s voices. There were no snappy graphics or fast-paced cuts. In fact, the colors were a bit faded and the actor’s faces were only highlighted in dim lighting. Then I turned to my dad, who was still beaming, as if all the happy memories from his childhood were flashing before his eyes. Judging by his enthusiastic clapping at the end, he sure didn’t seem to miss modern technology during those 30 seconds.
In a world of iPhones and missions to Mars, is it even possible that my childhood will ever be looked at in the way that I look at my dad’s? By then, will our TV shows be even crisper? Will it be unimaginable that we needed long, easily-tangled wires in our ears in order to listen to music? Will my kids marvel at the idea of us old-fashioned teenagers having to wait by wall outlets for our phones to get out of the dreaded red battery zone before heading out for the night? Will they laugh at us for using pieces of green paper to buy things?
The thing that has really stayed with me, though, is my dad’s comment about how all these new technologies are a “problem.” One day, will us late-millennials feel nostalgic as we look back on our simpler days, where we sometimes got a 10-minute homework break when our laptops lost battery, giving us an excuse to sit in peace in front of a warm fire while we waited for them to charge? Will a lack of instant-charging mechanisms become the new lack of a weather.com app? Will we pull out our old Nintendo 3DS XLs to smile at what was once the hottest new piece of technology, recalling memories of online play with friends, in the same way that my dad smiled at an old commercial? Will we wish that things had never changed? They say that you should never try to fix what’s not broken: does the charm of the way things are now trump the need for things that are fresher, newer and more advanced? Will we ever reach a point where there is no possible way to make any more “improvements?” And does this possibly-inevitable peak signal impending doom or the continuation of tradition?
In my last-period sociology class the other day, the teacher ended off a class discussion on changing technology’s impact on society with a statement that summarized my thoughts on the matter and left me with something to think about:
“I don’t know how new technology will affect future generations, and I don’t know if it will do more good or bad.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
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