I felt really old the other day. I actually heard myself saying "Well, when I was a kid…" to my daughters. Ok, so mid-thirties isn't exactly elderly, but I can't help but feel dated when I think about how much has changed technologically in my lifetime.
This all came about when I was taking photos of my kids. One of my girls ran up to me and said "let me see the pictures!" and it suddenly dawned on me that she'd never know what film was. She has no idea about having to send a roll of 35mm off in an envelope or bring it to the photo counter to have it processed. As far as she knows, you can see photos immediately after you take them and delete the ones you don't like. She'll never know about accidentally popping open the back of the camera and exposing the film, or excitedly bringing that little paper ticket to the Fotomat to pick up your double prints and negatives. And it doesn't stop there. I started thinking about how many of the things I thought were cool in my youth are now completely foreign concepts to my kids.
Remember the day your parents bought their first VCR? I do…vividly. I remember the drama over whether we should get VHS or Beta (wait, did anyone actually pick Beta?). I remember how exciting it was — at the time, it seemed like the wave of the future. Nowadays, if you were to show my kids a VHS tape and ask them what it is, they'd be stumped. And cassette tapes? Forget it. I won't even bother trying to explain the good old days when we'd tape songs off the radio (admit it — you did it, too) or use a pencil to wind up the actual tape when it came unspooled.
My 5-year-olds are already so spoiled by technology that they don't have the patience for live TV. Can you imagine? They've never known a world where you have to sit through two minutes of commercials. Oh, the horror! I was mildly mortified recently when, at the house of a friend who doesn't have cable, my children loudly proclaimed their annoyance that her TV "doesn't even let you fast-forward the commercials." Thank you, DVR.
I'm not the only one who finds this fascinating (and a little troubling), apparently. In a recent New York Times article, "The Children of Cyberspace: Old Fogies by Their 20s," Brad Stone examined the growing generation gap being caused, in large part, by quickly-changing technology.
Stone quoted a psychology professor at California State University, Dr. Larry Rosen, who says that, thanks to the influx of instant technologies, the newest generations "will expect an instant response from everyone they communicate with, and won't have the patience for anything less."
"They'll want their teachers and professors to respond to them immediately, and they will expect instantaneous access to everyone, because after all, that is the experience they have growing up," Rosen added. "They should be just like their older brothers and sisters, but they are not."
There is a bit of good news, though. Rosen says this explosion of new technology has also enhanced kids' ability to multitask. According to the article, one of Rosen's studies found that on average, teens can perform an average of seven tasks at the same time (think Facebooking, IMing and texting while chatting on the phone), while twentysomethings can only do about five and a half.
By that logic, my 5-year-olds should soon be able to simultaneously clean their room, make themselves a snack, learn to read and teach me to use my smartphone, all while listening to their iPod playlist (yes, they have one) and playing computer games on the laptop. Hey, it could happen.
–Contributed by Amy Erickson. Follow her @amyerickson