Monday, October 6, 2008

The Paradox of Technology

Sunday, September 7, 2008
4:43:24 PM CDT
Feeling Bitchy
Hearing Megan...nagging....

The Paradox of Technology

At least once on any given month, I either read, hear or view on the television some controversial debate on how kids these days have been bred to be unintelligent, mindless drones who have the talent to do little more than operate the video game control or the computer mouse – all somehow induced by the technological age. The most ironic humor I find in the whole matter is the fact that I wouldn’t even know this information had I not tapped into one of these technological resources to hear someone bantering about it in the first place

Over my lifetime, I’ve spent a great deal of time observing people. Not that I have to by any means, just consider it a hobby of mine. The thing I notice about people with convictions about anything of controversy is that they all have an opinion on how society should change things to make our lives better. I am of the personal mindset that opinions are like orifices; everyone has at least one, more people have two, and you really don’t want to know what comes out of either one of them. However, since you asked, I’ll try to quickly puke out a few thoughts from my head.

The idea that generations of children are quickly becoming inferior to their past constituents is nothing new. Step into any retirement home and carefully listen to the banters of WWII and Vietnam veterans and I think you’ll see my point. The paradox of this is that their parents were saying pretty much the same thing. “Kids these days are spoiled by technology.” What do you want to bet that your grandparent’s parents were saying the exact same thing about the automobiles? On the other hand, who do you think these generations are going to when it comes to programming their cell phones? Obviously their grandchildren, with their fluent abilities to text a 4 sentence message in less than 5 minutes. It’s not that kids are any different today than they were 40 years ago; it’s that we don’t like change, and we’ll do anything within our means to slow down progression.

I am a child of the Generation X, with all the amenities bestowed on a generation to be a part of the “in between” changes best noted in our historical textbooks. My children often delight in rolling their eyes when I whip out my LP of Purple Rain, or fail to depart with my 1988 NEC VCR that spends more time in a repair shop than my entertainment center. It’s not that I’m not “hip” or “into the time”, it’s just that the thought of throwing away $800.00 because it’s slightly out-dated brings me to tears. Long before cordless remote control televisions, there were models that shouted trip hazard as cords dangled from the TV to your viewing area. Before those days, there was Mel, who regularly sat right next to the floor console television ready for the prompt from dad to change the rotary channel or bend the rabbit ears for better reception. My generation was blessed with after school programming primarily shot in black and white. Within half an hour, “The Beaver” figured out that girls weren’t so bad, and Eddie Haskel would get his just desserts in the end. We didn’t spend our entire summers playing with the neighborhood kids, we took time out to improve our Frogger scores and watch the latest episodes of “The Cosby Show”. Happily I’m here to report, that children from my generation did not all become the defunct degenerates our grandparents said we would become. Many of us now hold prominent jobs in society, heck; even a few of us are trying to cure cancer.

The point of technology is to better a person’s life, not to consume it. Some believe that true knowledge only comes from old dusty books; I personally find nothing wrong with surfing the web for information and ideas. I did the library thing and I must admit that before the World Wide Web became the trafficking industry it is today, librarians at my local branch were seriously considering charging me rent. The library just wasn’t open long enough in a day to satisfy my curious mind. The internet affords me the opportunity to spend time with my family while satisfying those needs; sort of like holding your child’s hand while you’re shopping. (This means, that if you find me online at 3 am when I’m finally left to my own devices, you’ll understand what I’m saying about library hours ;) ). Some profess that the internet isn’t an accurate means of information, well, here’s the newsflash – every book isn’t either. Just because information comes in the form of a hard copy doesn’t mean it is true – you have to consider the source. If all print was factual, my children would never be timed out, my computer would have crashed from the Y2K bug and I’d now be attempting to find a means of going to Mars in search of Elvis.

Children aren’t anymore “stupider” than they were in past generations. They just know different things and have different ways in which to obtain their desires. If these new generations were so “stupid”, why the heck would their grandparents call them every time their computers didn’t work? I actually found myself in a similar paradox of technology in my algebra class. The teacher stated that “kids these days don’t know how to perform math equations in their head and often turn to calculators to find the answer to 9 x 8.” Oh heck yeah I had my little pride feathers all puffed out until it occurred to me that they were using these calculators because they were intelligent enough to operate the darn things in the first place. Why the heck would you spend an hour walking to the local grocery store when you could get there in less than 3 minutes by car? It’s not laziness that comes into play here – it’s just a more logical and intelligent way of accomplishing a task. That knowledge comes from the willingness to learn and try new things.

The joy of learning and knowledge comes from within. It’s not inbred; it’s something we discover from the guidance of our parents. I myself am expertly skilled at using the dictionary, simply because I was directed to reference it every time I had a question regarding the English language. These days, I simply utilize the internet as a faster means of obtaining the same information. On the bonus side, I can expect the information I find online to be more to date than the American Scholastic Dictionary I bought from a door salesman 4 years ago.

Here’s my point:

It’s not technology that has made our children “stupid”, it is the lack of parental influence. If you want to change your future, stop complaining about it and start becoming an inspiration. Encourage your kid to pick up a book and read just for the fun of it. Model the behavior in your own life by practicing what you preach, why not just read along with them? Invest some time in communicating with your child and never be afraid to investigate further if something doesn’t seem right to you. Stand up to the responsibility of joyful reproduction by taking the role of parenting seriously.

The difference between an alcoholic and a social drinker is control. Control is learned by cause and effect, and I’ve yet to meet a child that can distinguish between the two without good parental guidance. Sure, we all have busy lives, but if you’re too darn busy to take time out to fulfill your parental responsibilities, then you better invest some income in some good birth control. Children are fascinating creatures and quick learners. If your toddler crawls over to your hot oven, touches it, and receives 3rd degree burns from the experience, I guarantee you he won’t be doing it again anytime soon. Human behavior doesn’t adversely change as we grow older; we still learn from our experiences and build off the foundation of our parent’s guidance. Set parameters for your child; one hour of TV after your homework is finished or one hour on the computer after your chores are done – children thrive on discipline and boundaries, as long as they don’t cross the lines of abuse.

Parenting is a huge responsibility, but one with the greatest reward. If you establish a consistent environment that nourishes learning and curiosity, and you guide them to resources that enable them to find answers, I can guarantee you that your child will be successful in his academic career and open to learn new things from new teachers year after year. When you establish behavioral boundaries through mentoring and cause and effect you prepare your child for his experience with the next English professor who attempts to teach your child how to make an extended analytical argument. Rather than idle aimlessly within the screens of Wikipedia, he will at least know how to tap into other knowledgeable resources in an attempt to complete the assignment, while hopefully aspiring to change the opinion of this Professor.

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