On Where We're Going

I find myself a little obsessed with how technology and social networking is changing us. I’ve read a lot of cautionary tales about how it’s going to be our downfall, how we’re forgetting to connect in real time, how kids today (always a red flag statement) don’t have the community ethic or attention span. But I don’t know. To some extent I do agree with all of this, yet I also don’t believe we can know where we’re going. Who knows what kind of world this will be in 100 years. It might behoove our race to not have an attention span long enough to read Crime and Punishment or know how to communicate with each other face to face. We might need to make quick decisions based on little information and do this without knowing the person we’re deciding with. Although I immediately begin thinking of humans as energy sources for machines or living in pods underground, I wonder if that’s because it’s the only vision I’ve been fed. It might not be frightening to those living in that time. It could be that all this decentralization and speeding up of information is laying the groundwork for a kind of utopia we can’t even imagine.

I’m thinking of this today because I’ve been converting all of our cds to mp3s (yes, I got there from here). I’m about halfway done and it’s been a dozen every few days for the last several weeks. I’m thoroughly enjoying myself, as the task combines two of my favorite things: seeing progress unfold on a tangible sized job (like scrubbing down the refrigerator or deadheading the rhodies) and reminiscing about my life (Critters Buggin’! Slant 6! Screaming Trees for chrissakes … the doc martins, the pitchers of Pabst at the Beav, driving sweet Blackie O) And as I methodically worked through the pile, thinking about who I was in the 90s and the explosion of technology that has happened in just this short amount of time, I began to wonder how my grandparents experienced this last 20 years. Or how my cousin, who will enter college soon, will experience the next 20 years. We are all, of a time, of a place. We think we know what’s best for the next generation but we don’t.

There are some simple lessons here … the first that comes to mind is to tread lightly. Underlying all of this talk of technology and what it’s doing to us is the desire to ensure that the next 20 years comes, in whatever form. So, a separate conversation, but #1 is taking care of our home. Following this I’d say:

Keep up to date: do what you can to explore and understand (not necessarily master) new technology. I was anti Facebook for a long time until I heard myself say how unnecessary it was, that it would just go the way of Friendster and MySpace, so why bother. I realized that each piece of technology that I avoided because it might just be a stupid stepping stone to something else would eventually leave me in the dust. How could I understand this world of social networking if I didn’t get in the pool with everyone else? With my current attitude I would quickly join the ranks of an ‘old person’, stubbornly clinging to the past while the future lives without me. I take my father-in-law as a good example of how to do it right. At 70+ years he is making videos with his new iTouch and sending them out to his kids … he’s way ahead of any of us and I really admire that.
Ask questions of those older than you: try to come to terms with how quickly time passes and how much changes in one lifetime. I can talk with my grandmother about playing in the train depot while she waited for her dad to get off of work, or my grandfather about the cost of his first car and how he would save to buy a new pair of shoes. What they’ve seen blows my mind. It makes me realize how similar we are and that when you look back over 90 years it quickly condenses down into a blip, just a moment in time. I am not the most important thing to walk the planet. My generation did not create the coolest thing ever. Every generation is cutting edge in context of their time spent here.
Ask questions of those younger than you: although every generation is cutting edge at their time, the younguns are definitely a part of the coolest right now. And right now is where we’re living. I was talking to my 16 year old cousin about what music she listens to and all of a sudden I realized, it’s less about what and more about how. I wanted to know if her friends made mixed tapes, er, cds, er, mp3 playlists … and how did they transfer those to each other? Or was mixing music even something to do anymore … maybe there are different things being ‘mixed’ right now that I’m not even aware of. I wanted to know how she discovered new music – radio? xm? amazon suggestions? Turns out, she’s listening to the same radio station I did in highschool. Which, truly, that’s kinda weird. The look on her face, well, now I know how I look to my grandparents. It was a cross between disbelief that radio existed so long ago and trying to imagine that I could have been anything like her when I was her age.

Understanding where I fit on the continuum gives me hope that each generation brings new material to the conversation. Each new phase of life on the planet evolves us toward something we cannot possibly understand or appreciate. But we can be present and continue to be curious and thoughtful about how we’re evolving. Technology and social networking sites are not something to be afraid of or to stubbornly tune out. They are tools like fire and disposable mop heads, changing us for the better and the worse, depending on how we use them (this is maybe where the discussion is going, where my passion really lies – because how we use them is what is changing us).

Bottom line is that you must know what you’re dealing with in order to be a part of the change and a part of the solution. We’re on the frontier of something, that’s for sure, and I certainly hope I get to be a part of it.

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