Monday, November 22, 2010

Ponderings on generation D

The Digital Generation is not just teenagers that text 5000 messages a month, toddlers with iphones, or 8-year old kids that love Nintendo (those youngsters are called Generation Z).  It is all of the rest of us too - all of us that use digital tools like GPS, computers, digital cameras, cell phones, DVD players, ipods, ATMs ('bankomat'), etc.  We are all becoming more and more dependent on these things, and at the same time our power over them is becoming severely limited.

What do you do when your cell phone doesn't work?  Call the company (on another phone), and then probably send it in to get another one. When the computer breaks? After searching the internet and not understanding much of the geeky advice there, maybe buy a new one, or send it in for expensive service.  When the battery to the ipod is dead?  Throw it away and buy a new one.  It is the true new wear-and-discard society ("slit och släng" in Swedish).

We have lost so much power over our own surroundings, our own capabilities. Repair is no longer in our hands for many of these gadgets, so we are powerless.  Same for cars - it used to be that you could do some repairs by yourself, but the new cars have all these electronics in them so you stand there with your wrench and can't do much except for change a tire or so.  Same with new dishwashers, fridges, and washing machines.  Many aren't even worth repairing by the experts, so they just send you new ones as long as you have warranty left.  Products seem to be just made to break, so we can buy more and more...  It is sickening, and not smart or sustainable at all.

There has been a lot in the news here in the US about how The Digital Generation is affected by our online-additions.  I will copy little snippets here on the blog and link to the articles if you want to read more.  Mainly these articles focus on lack of attention, lack of focus, lack of face-to-face friendships, and lack of problem solving.  I think we all need to think about how all of this affects everybody, and even if you yourself is not severely affected, I am sure you might have people around you that are or can be.  It is hard to break addictions, but I think many of these behaviors play just into the human minds addiction and attention centers. 

Some of these technologies are so new that there aren't really any social rules about them.  For example - in my opinion it is not OK to text messages on your cell phone during class, dinner, conversations, etc. but people do, all the time.  I know professors who text and e-mail during lectures and meetings.

I recently had a cab driver who was texting at 65 mph on the highway and I had to tell him to stop.  It is illegal to text while driving in NJ, and also illegal to talk on the cell phone without a hands-free set.  But people talk on their cell phones while driving too, but at least you have your eyes on the road.  I do to, sometimes, because it is convenient... and that is the point of today's life - everything should be convenient, instant, fast, and over the top.

I know I might sound like a curmudgeon, but I think this is a dangerous trend of addiction to instant digital rewards.  The internet and its digital devices can be good and can also be misused. Many times I think they take the power from us, instead of us having the power over them.  People say all the time: "Oh, I just have to check e-mail."  Well, do you?  We are addicted to feel needed, important...  but are not needed any longer so much by real people, but by an e-mail program.

I went to a lecture about this a few months ago and I will blog about it later, but it largely was about taking control of your Inbox and not letting it control you.  I know that for many of the readers of this blog this is not a problem, but I feel the burden of sometimes hundreds of e-mails a day and a to-do-list that just grows and grows. E-mail, texting and online social web sites - aren't they just time suckers?

Merlin Mann says: Joining a Facebook group about creative writing is like buying a chair about jogging.  (right!)

I like the internet, because you can find information on historical train accident maps, new knitting patterns, and cool Latin species names - things that otherwise would have been unknown to you.  So, how to find a balance and how to direct your internet focus to you don't get trapped in the information swamp? More on focus and attention in the news later, now it is time for real work and not blogging.

I'll end my ponderings today with a quote from a UTNE article by Brad Zellar:

"Am I the only one who generally finds the internet a lonely vacuum, a vortex, a votive candle in the men’s room of the noisiest shopping mall on the planet? Am I the only one who feels like I’m wasting way too much time nosing around in nonsense, having what’s left of my brains beaten in by jackhammers, and trying to “make friends” when I should be doing a better job of actually being friends?"


PP said...

this is so true...I have been thinking about it more and more lately. I want to find a way to have my cake and eat it do you withdraw yet manage to maintain the things you need to do?

MLB said...

I have to say I LOVE LOVE LOVE having a library at my disposal. I am teaching my son how to do research every day. He asks me about something I might now know, and we look it up on the internet. It is also a chance to teach him about the reliability of the source since we can occasionally find conflicting answers.

I also have to say that when I had a new baby in the house the internet provided a way to stay connected during a time when it is easy to become isolated.

You make some good points. I just wanted to make the point that there are positives as well.

LS said...

Hi MLB - I know, that is one of my points and one of the big problems - how to use these great resources in a good way, without getting stuck or addicted. The digital revolution is fabulous for so many things, but then there are all these negative effects with it too. To find that balance is the hard part.

The internet makes me able to stay so more connected to my Swedish family and friends, to share so much more, and to learn so much more - but then you have the whole Facebook, Twitter, texting, instant inattention problem that is something different and not good. Two sides of the same coin, or?

I don't know, it just bothers me, especially when I see how it affects our lives and the behavior of many of the students I meet who embrace this technology so much more than I do. And it isn't just technology, it is the lack of life skills that is the most scary (cooking, fixing things, problem solving, cleaning things, making things). You can't hammer a nail with an ipod (well I guess you can :)...

I am afraid there is a new generation that is becoming quite handfallen when it comes to actually live, eat, and survive, especially when technology breaks down, which it does, at least now and then.

But - the internet is wonderful - especially for things like this blog :P