The Digital Generation Gap

I think technology is widening the generation gap at an increased rate. I guess technology has always been at the root of the gap, though when the term first surfaced in the sixties or seventies, I think it had more of an idealogical meaning. We’ve all heard stories about how kids today don’t know what an LP is, or how to use one. One of my favorite examples is from an early Bloom County strip, in which Binkley asks his father what it means “to wind one’s watch.” My kids have grown up in a post-MTV world, and they think in much more visual terms than I do when it comes to music, and sometimes even in terms of literature, thanks to movie adaptations of comic books and classic literature like Lord of the Rings.

Recently, I have seen a couple of new examples of technological generation gappage, both from my stepson, Logan.

One day, when picking him up from day care, he pointed up to a small Cessna flying overhead and asked if it was one of those “old-fashioned” planes. When I heard the term “old-fashioned,” I immediately thought about Steerman biplanes, and started to explain that the plane was not a biplane. “No,” he said, “I mean is it one of the kinds that just have one propeller that they have to use to fly.”

Then, last night, Lannette decided to take a picture of two of our cats, who were snuggling on the living room floor. She got out her compact 35mm, waited for the flash to activate, and took the picture. (Fortunately, the cats were content to sit and pose while the batteries warmed up the flash.) When she was done, Logan asked, “Can I see?”

“See what?” Lannette said, a confused look on her face.

“See how the picture turned out,” he replied. At that point, it dawned on both of us that Logan had grown up in an age where digital cameras are more common than 35mm cameras, and it was normal for him to expect to see immediate results on a small LCD screen.

As technology accelerates, this will, of course, become a wider gap. Ten years from now, when my son Keith has kids (if he has them that soon), my grandchildren will grow up in a world where PDAs will be a requirement for elementary students, and the teachers will automatically beam the homework assignments to the classroom using Bluetooth (or something similar.) To check that the homework is being done, Keith will have to ask his son or daughter to show him how to work the PDA, and will probably have to add his voiceprint to the machine to be able to even access it.

Their allowances (should Keith choose to issue them) will be credits transferred into their accounts, and they can use their PDAs to purchase lunches at school, sodas at the pop machines, and toys at the toy store. In their squeaky-clean world of credits and WiFi, cash will have no meaning; money will be an abstract concept reduced to a red or black number on the screen of their PDAs.

Is this a good thing? Yes and no. Yes, because it will contribute to the safety and security of the kids, and once the parents learn how to use the kids’ PDAs, it will be easier for them to track homework progress and grades. No, because it means that technology will continue to widen the gap between parents and children. As parents, it will be our responsibility to keep on top of current technology if we want to maintain a connection with our kids.

This weekend, I will be giving Keith his first convergence device: my old Treo 300. It will be his phone, his scheduler, his alarm, and his toy, just as it was for me.

Keith, if you are reading this, stay on top of technology. It will help you preserve a relationship with your kids, when and if you have them.

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