Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Kids these days! At 35, I find myself saying this more often than I would like. I don’t feel particularly old, but when I talk to your average twenty-something, and try to explain life before the internet and ipod, I suddenly feel very old indeed. Even my 5 year old nephew refuses to play X-Box with me, because he’s so far advanced and I just don’t have the skills. He’s nice about it, but firm. I challenge him to a game of Pong. We’ll see who’s got the skills then, little man! He scoffs at me without taking his eyes of “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.” “Leave me alone,” he says, “can’t you see I’m busy beating this crack whore over the head with a crowbar ?”

It sometimes seems to me that mine may be the last American generation to be ambivalent about new technologies. We at least have early memories of the late sixties and seventies, that quaint and innocent era before 24 hour cable news, personal computers, X-box, and the internet. When the world was wider. Before it shrank to the size of a village. Kids today were born and raised global villagers.

I have always been a bit of a Luddite, often hostile toward and always late to embrace new technologies. I remember the moment I realized we were entering a brave new world of frightening abstractions. I was a college sophomore when the card catalogues at my university were dismantled, removed, and replaced by computers. A room the size of a city block was emptied out entirely over a summer. It seemed significant, and sinister to me at the time. It seemed to forebode a day when libraries themselves would disappear, and the whole of human knowledge, like the famed Royal Library of Alexandria, would go up in smoke.

Kids today have no such fear. They’ve grown up in a pumped-up, maxed-out media-saturated environment, with the whole of human knowledge at their fingertips. According to a fascinating new study by The Henry Kaiser Family Foundation called “Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 year olds” they are master multi-taskers, spending an average of almost six and a half hours a day with media. That’s over forty hours a week, a full-time job. And given that much of the time youth are using media, they are multi-tasking, they’re actually cramming 8.5 hours of media into those daily 6.5 hours. A valuable skill, to be sure, but the ability to focus on a single, simple task is waning.

The study assures us that kids are still perfectly happy, which is frankly hard for those of us nostalgic for the days of Pong to believe. I’m probably not too old to change my ways, improve my skills, but I don’t know if I’m ready to give up the pure and simple geometric pleasures of Pong for the still elusive high of chasing down and beating up on virtual crack whores with a bloody crowbar.

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