When my Aunt Lela was sent home with hospice several years ago, I was in charge of her initial care. One of the first items of business was gathering supplies so we could give her a proper sponge bath. I gave my nephew a list of items to pick up. My nephew looked at the list and asked, “What’s a dish pan?” I laughed.
My friend Ann told me a tale about her niece opening a cabinet filled with record albums. “What are these, Aunt Ann?” she asked. We laughed.
It’s always a little funny to me when a young person asks about a strange product or device from the past. Times do change, and we all remember asking our parents and grandparents about something we found in the kitchen drawer or out in the tool shed. But I get a rather odd feeling when I contemplate the fact that young people have never known a life without certain products or conveniences. I never knew life before television. Today’s young people have never known life before the Internet. And because they were born cyber babies, they have taken to this technology like the proverbial fish to water. My first phone was wired to the wall and confined to a room. Their first phone is a mobile texting device that can access a variety of social media websites. It’s a little unnerving for those of us who remember life before the triumph of personal technology.
While we love our modern devices and services, what kind of price do we pay for spending so much time with them? Susan Maushart wondered the same thing, and she decided her teenagers were spending way too much time connected to cyberspace. She decided to disconnect the family for six months, and tells the story in her new book, The Winter of Our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept with Her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale.
Not only did Maushart pull the plug on the Internet, she turned off the TVs and the video game box, and restricted use of cell phones. What followed is what the author calls an “immersion in RL (real life).” Saxophone was practiced, board games were played, books were read, grades improved, and face to face conversation became the norm. You can read more about the family’s experiment here, and how it changed their lives.
And now the big questions for those of you with children or grandchildren: How do you think technology is impacting your young ones’ lives for good or ill? Have you ever restricted a young person’s use of technology? What is family life like with today’s technology versus the family life you experienced while growing up?
Don’t have young people in your life? Then, tell us how your life pattern has changed with the advent of technology. Do you have fewer face-to-face get-togethers with friends? Or has cyberspace and social networking actually improved your social life?
All good questions. Let’s talk. Post your comments, thoughts and concerns below. Thanks!
Young Bill Young here, writing on Kitty’s blog once again. (Thanks for the space, Kitty!)
About a year ago, I realized that much of the recent geeky entertainment I’ve been enjoying touches upon a common theme: Identity. Indeed, what is a person?
Let’s start at the beginning with the reimagined Battlestar Galactica television series. The cylons (robots) of the new series had evolved to look like us. When they died, they downloaded into new bodies and retained their memories. They laughed, cried, slept, loved, killed, nurtured, sulked, experienced joy and understood complex ideas. Were the cylons truly alive? Did they have souls? It’s ironic that the very first line of dialog in the series is a cylon asking a human this question: “Are you alive?” Ironic, because the humans struggle throughout the series asking that very same question about the cylons.
I was intrigued by the show enough to read a couple of pop culture books that discussed the issues presented on my television (including those issues of identity and what it means to be “alive”): Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy: Knowledge Here Begins Out There and Cylons in America: Critical Studies in Battlestar Galactica. Heady stuff, with a number of references to Ray Kurzweil’s idea of the coming singularity, when humans transcend their biological limitations in order to relate to superintelligent AIs. Really heady stuff!
Over this past year, I’ve found myself exploring this subject in other books and shows. For example, I’m watching Josh Whedon’s Dollhouse. Persons who have their memories erased are called dolls. They are imprinted with the memories of others and sent on missions. Does a doll actually become this other person? Is the doll still the person they were before their memories were removed, or is a person a collection of ongoing memories?
Then it was on to Robert Venditti’s graphic novel The Surrogates, in which people use humanoid remote control vehicles to interact with each other. This is similar to the idea used in James Cameron’s movie Avatar, except in Cameron’s work, the “remote” is actually a biological entity.
Even my most recent guilty pleasure, Jenna Black’s series on demon exorcist Morgan Kingsley, addresses the horror of real identity theft during possessions.
Now I’m reading David Brin’s Kiln People. In this future, people can download their memories into clay duplicates (dittos) that are sent out to work, to party, to accomplish menial tasks, or to perform a mission that would be dangerous to a biological person. The ditto has all of the memories of the original person (the rig) up to the time of downloading. Dittos are short-lived, lasting only about a day. Dittos must get home in time to download their memories in order to continue “to exist.” When the rig downloads the ditto’s memories from the day, those memories become part of the orignal’s experience as well.
There is a slightly chilling scene where a ditto awakens and observes “his” rig, and you realize that, at the point where the two sets of memories diverge, a new person has been born. Dittos may be shortlived, but that doesn’t stop a human rights movement promoting the idea that “Dittos are people, too.”
I suppose this obsession with identiy and personhood in recent science fiction could all be a natural extension of themes ignited by Willliam Gibson’s groundbreaking Neuromancer, as well as the real science and technology that is evolving around us. I don’t expect to live to see Kurzweil’s singularity, but if I do, I wonder if I will wake up some morning and ask, Am I me?
I just read this weekend a quote from Steve Jobs about reading. Shelfari (social networking book site) is quite perturbed over it, and launching a 50 books reading challenge to reject his premise. So here’s what he said:
When asked about the new Amazon Kindle product, Steve Jobs CEO of Apple computer had this to say:
“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”
I think the problem with the kindle is those of us who do read don’t want to spend almost $400.00 to read a book, that’s a lot of paperbacks or overdue library fines. And for that price it should be a lot better format than print and I’m just not sure it is.
Do we really think “people just don’t read anymore”?
And if this is true, why is it true?