Friday, October 22, 2010

Lessons from the Facebook generation

I saw the movie, "The Social Network" yesterday.  It was very enjoyable as a story, and the juveniles who portrayed all those geniuses and billionaires and Harvard bluebloods gave impressive performances.  I understood the movie, because even though it dealt with highly technical stuff (server loads, megabytes, Morse code), the central story was about friendships, love, sex, heartbreak, betrayal and loss - a soap opera.  I understand that story arc, even when it's framed in Gen-X speak.  Incidentally, if you are a female with eyes, the scenes with the twin brothers rowing crew were well worth the price of admission. 

I guess the title of the blog is misleading, because I'm not yet sure what lessons I've learned from this generation reared on life via technology.  My own children are part of this culture, and I think they are pretty nice people, so I can't write off the whole techie generation as a bunch of social misfits and wire-headed loners.  I'm sure lots of nice teenagers own multiple laptops, have a gps on their phone, and know how to hack sophisticated security systems.  Am I a bad person for hoping that my kids never need technology that badly?

My beloved Flipper - the resuscitated "phone only" phone
A very tech-savvy friend got a new I-Phone Number 4 recently.  That looks wrong - is it version 4, ap 4, generation 4, 4 gig, 4 hz, 4 watts?  I don't really know why it has a "4" after it, anymore than I know why it has an "I" in front of it.  I know I'm supposed to be wowwed by it, but the only thing that caught my attention is that it is bigger than my little drowning survivor.  It won't slip easily into one of your pockets, but that's okay since I think they are meant to be worn, like a wedding ring, or some other kind of social identifier.

I wonder if some wit has invented a name for people who use technology without any understanding of it.  Is there a one-word description for someone like me? Technophobe?  I enjoy and use certain products of technology, like the laptop and the cell phone, but I struggle against dependence issues. I don't text or twitter.  I don't like abbreviations stemming from texting. When it comes to devices, I settle for minimal features and I dread upgrades.  I also can't tell if I'm watching a show in HD or not.

   If I had the choice between getting an I-Phone and getting my favorite chair recovered, I'd choose the chair, and not just because it's $70 less than the phone.  I guess it's because I find these devices useful, but not that interesting.  I don't have the courage or the energy to eschew all technology and convenience and go live in the woods away from civilization.  I definitely don't want to go back to a time where you couldn't look up the word "eschew" without having to get up from your chair, walk across the room, hoist the Websters, put it down, go back across the room for your reading glasses...well, you get the drift.  I like the fruits of our high-tech lifestyles, I'm just not sure what they say about us. I love convenience, but I don't love the machines.

I am even confused by trying to figure out what my central issue is.  Am I upset at my dependence on my laptop, the internet and instant communication?  Or are they just a convenient scapegoat for the laziness these devices make possible?  For example, I can honestly say I almost never make long-distance phone calls to anyone I'm friends with on facebook.  Sadly, the site seems to have made voice communication almost unnecessary.  Announce your plans, intentions, thoughts and raves in your status and it's everyone else's responsibility to know what to do with that information.

I also hate to admit how many books I have bought online, rather than wait for the library copy to become available.  Waiting for what I want has become a lost skill.  When watching an item on ebay, do I wait out an auction or pay a few cents more for a Buy-it Now?  Just check my feedback.  Is it any wonder that I struggle to  teach my kids not to expect instant gratification? A Facebook chat is so much easier than a real spoken conversation - talking on the phone...that takes real effort.  Suddenly I'm feeling nostalgic for the days when Eric used to complain about the long-distance bill.

A "long distance" call - does anyone even think that way now?  My girls have no idea why you even have to dial "1" from the home phone but not from the cell.  To them, a phone number always needs an area code.  They've rarely had to observe an ironclad phone call time limit, or wait their turn to use the only line in the house.  And they never suffer the disappointment of missing a call - if we can't be reached on the home phone, there are four cell phones here, and 3 computers with multiple messaging networks on them.  E-vites don't get lost by the USPS like invitations can.   They've rarely ever had to crack a musty encyclopedia for information, or sit through an endless recording to find out store opening times or movie show times. In their world, getting information doesn't take work, so much as it takes creativity.

Oops, I'm still rambling.  I guess I'm stuck trying to figure out what I've learned from this generation that has the brilliance to invent Facebook, the I-Phone and Resident Evil.  I know that a poll of 18-25 year olds revealed that they rated the song "I'm A Survivor" by Destiny's Child as a better song than "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor, which I find unnaturally disturbing. That single data point just may demonstrate how vast the gulf is that separates our generations, taste-wise. And really, when I think about it, that generation probably doesn't care if I learn anything from them or not.  After all, I blanched at the idea of my mother learning to disco dance and ran the other way when my uncle challenged me to play "Asteroids" at a college bar. When you are young, you'd rather die than witness old people trying to be cool.  I guess that's how the Harvard kids feel about seeing all of us bored housewives on facebook these days.

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