Yesterday, I noticed a picture of Madonna’s daughter, Lourdes in the paper. She had shaved the sides of her head and this was enough excitement for a newspaper to give the event a headline. Of course, I don’t care or worry about a 16 year old’ shaven head but it made me think about the year she was born.
You see, 1996 was an important year for me. It was then that I went online for the first time. I was 24 and even though we’re talking about something that happened nearly 17 years ago, I still remember to this day the moment I finally got on the net. I sat there, transfixed waiting for the page to load – which took about a good five minutes.
Then red letters spelling Yahoo! appeared in front of me and I was amazed that the internet knew this was my first time online and gave me such a warm welcome as a result. Like a little celebration.
I didn’t have a clue about search engines.
Then on that same day, I ended up having a chat with a woman living in Antwerp, which I thought was totally amazing. I was in Ghent, a whole 60 km away from her!
It is said that 1996 was the year that the internet got commercialised. And, it was also then that my husband, got his first mobile phone, which prompted people to think he was either a pimp or a pusher.
Modern life as we know it now, started that year for me. In fact, I always think about time as the internet and pre-internet era.
But the thing is: I was already 24 when the technological revolution kicked off. Right up to that hot day in August in 1996, I had believed we were already living in modern times. We were after all able to fax a doodle across the world, we danced to electronic music wearing futuristic fly-like sunglasses and most of us were the owner of the most sophisticated communication tool out there: the beeper.
Life up to the mid-nineties felt anything but old-fashioned.
Though, upon reflection, I wonder how we were able to survive these days without so much of a scratch. As, how the hell did we manage without mobile phone or internet? With no option to text someone to say that you’ll be one hour late, adding ‘just wait for me’. And how was it possible that we went on holiday without reading a single hotel review or an air crash statistic page, and with two rolls of film in our travel bag?
It’s also odd to think that back then, we would go weeks without giving any news to each other. Not that we were cold-hearted people, we just assumed there was no need to let people know up to three times a day what we were eating there and then.
Thinking about it, I can’t remember us sending each other letters which read: ‘just had a lemon Calippo. Wowsers!’
Today however, we appear to believe that such important update must be shared with anyone – with photoshopped pictures attached, to give the event even more significance.
Regarding Lourdes and all the other kids of her generation, she was born with the Internet already available for commercial use, mobile phones, and all the other gadgets and possibilities that came later on.
The kids today are part of the millennium generation, also known as Generation Y. They are the ones that can manoeuvre around your Smartphone, better than you can and long before they are able to tie their own shoelaces.
And there was a time that I envied them. Not so much because of their youth (though a crease free face without the option of extra luggage under my eyes would be something I’d sign up for again) but because of the fact that all this modern technology enables them to have everything at a finger tip – as soon as they are born really. Anything they wish for, is there to consume instantly.
I do however wonder what it does to a young person’s brain to have to deal with such an information overload on a daily basis. Surely, they must be able to cook the perfect eggs Benedict or build a bedroom Hadron Collider by the age of four, right?
Well, maybe not. As, although these children will be exposed to a lot more information than most of us ever will, according to psychologist Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University, the way we use search engines, changes the way our brains store memories. This is called the Google Effect.
This basically means that having easy access to information via the internet, makes people less likely to remember certain details they believe they can access online.
One result of this phenomenon is that your brain will no longer feel the need to store the information like it used to do as it knows it will be able to find it in seconds if there is a need for it.
As Sparrow quoted: “We’re not thoughtless empty-headed people who don’t have memories anymore. But we are becoming particularly adept at remembering where to go find things’.
Another thought I had is: is it really so much fun if everything is available in a matter of nanoseconds?
If you think about it, many years ago, us humans were hunters. I therefore assume that this trait is still embroidered within our DNA. But the fact is that everything can be found by anyone; does it not take some of the fun away from the experience as a result?
I remember that in my teens, there was one little obscure shop in a rather unsavoury part of town which would sell punk and new wave gear.
If you were into this type of music, you’d know to go there. The thing was: if that shop didn’t have what you wanted, you went to Brussels and if Brussels could not offer you the desired, you went on to hunt through as many vintage shops as you could find. AND, if that did not bring any result, you had no other option than to make the outfit yourself.
Notwithstanding the fact that it could be exhausting too, it was still a lot of fun to search for it and when you found what you were looking for (to sound a little U2-esque), you were pretty chuffed with yourself. You had after all gone ‘all the way’ to find that rare object you had your heart set on.
These days, a kid wanting to go Punk-style, has the possibility to type into the search engine: ‘Punk Fashion Buy’ and the result will be pages of shops offering Punk clothes and accessories. Within a day or two, the whole outfit including the safety pins and reproduced stains, will be delivered to their home address and they’ll be able to roll out the prêt-à-porter-punk, they’ve become overnight.
And if they want the music to go with it, they’ll just look for it, click download, pay or not and it will be on their playlist within the next hour.
Even though I am a huge music fan and download a lot of music, I however think that kids these days, miss out on some of the fun we used to have by going to these small, independent record shops.
Those may have been dark and smoky places but there were always interesting characters lurking around the listening stations. You would end up talking to these music fanatics and it was never boring. The exploration was as much fun as the actual find.
Trying to hunt for things made us appreciate it more I believe. It definitely made us stand out more and although we were perhaps more labelled back then, it created a real underground culture, which I don’t see so much of now.
There are other concerns I have; to name the first: the demand to be constantly available. As since when is it mandatory to be 24/7 people, always having to be on standby – just like a doctor?
At least the generations who have lived the ancient life will every now and then remember to put the: ‘Sorry We’re Closed’, sign up. It just gets too much sometimes. I just hope that these children, having not known anything else than this constant updating and messaging, will do the same.
I am also worried about all this internet trolling as according to the news last week, one in three children has suffered online bullying. At least when we were kids, we could close the door behind us and that was that. Due to the technological wonders we now have, the bullies can bully the victims within their own bedroom walls. It can’t but affect them.
Another worry I have is all this poor communication we get to see these days. Everything must be fast and furious and as such, messages like these: CD9 CYE CYT B4N (parents are around, check your email, see you tomorrow, goodbye for now), may become bog standard.
Incredibly, in New Zealand, SMS lingo is now accepted language during the end of the years exams.
It makes you speculate where all this is leading to and I am wondering whether one day, the publishing houses will be re-releasing classics such as How To Kill A Mockingbird in text language.
But we have to be ready for the reality that the children who have known this technology all their lives, will be joining us in the workplace very soon. There is no doubt in my mind that they’ll be brilliant at their jobs but I do not think that there will be a lot of pleasantries exchanged – at least not face to face. I am sure however, that I will be able to read all their witty updates on my Twitter.
I will be honest, I still envy these children a tiny bit for having everything available to them by a click of the mouse but I also realise that these are potentially the kids who built many trees in Sims City rather than climbing the real ones and whose parents organised a play date with the neighbour’s children via Wifi and Skype, without the need for them to meet. (you never know, little Poppy may be catching Harry’s cold otherwise)
But it’s not all gloom and doom as these kids have after all experienced the high-tech life from the moment their parents built them a Facebook page with an ultra scan image as profile picture. Who knows which great inventions may follow suit.
And of course, there are still plenty of children who don’t have their own website, can spell and have active lives with friends they meet for real and not as an avatar.
They are just like we once were but in what they call ‘the primitive times’.
Same principles yet they have mobiles, we had coins and payphone cards.
To conclude: we live in times where everything is possible and almost anything can be obtained, which is great. But I think that the hunter in us, may be left, just a little bored sometimes. It’s also not certain how we are all going to evolve along this fast growing technology. We’ll have to wait and see.
But I can’t deny that I am very happy that I get to experience life where everything can be Googled, though I am also grateful that for the first 24 years of my life, I got to walk with dinosaurs.