I’m old enough to remember a time before the internet. I remember having to do papers at the library with an encyclopedia. I remember a time before cell phones, when you still had to call someone’s house and ask their parents if they were home (I even remember the time when you didn’t have to dial the area code to make a local call!). In those days, people did things like read. Kids played outside–together, in person!
“What is this ‘outside’ you speak of?”
Sure, I grew up playing video games. My family had an original Nintendo when it came out, then the super Nintendo, etc. But there was a subtle difference from today’s video games: you couldn’t play them online. You couldn’t sit in front of a television for 12 hours and play multiplayer with people halfway across the world. The average game had maybe a handful of levels to play, not downloadable content to expand an already huge gaming world. So yes, I may have sat down to play video games as a child. But without the ability to go online and without the massive gaming environments they got boring pretty quickly. Mario could only die so many times before I turned the game off in frustration and went outside to ride my bike (without the internet, you couldn’t just Google “How to beat that one level in Mario…”).
Fuck you, turtles.
Growing up, my parents didn’t have to regulate my “screen time” because there were only one or two screens to look at–the television or the computer (which without the internet was basically a big typewriter and thus held zero interest to a child)–and neither of them were portable by any means. We didn’t have cell phones and iPads and whatever that would stream visual content to us whenever we wanted it. Even television was more boring–there were fewer channels and there was no “on demand” feature that gave you instant access to episodes of any show you wanted. You basically just had to watch whatever was on at the time, and if nothing interesting was on you picked up a book or went outside and climbed a tree or dug a hole in the ground or whatever.
So where am I going with this? Well, my generation was the last to really grow up that way. The generations that came after me have always known the world with cell phones and the internet. And the teenagers now that were born in 2000 or later have never known a world where the internet sounded like a fax machine, was too slow to stream crap, and would crash whenever someone in your house tried to make a phone call on a LAND LINE. Do kids today even have a clue as to what a land line is? I doubt it. They’ll never know a time where cell phones didn’t have games and couldn’t access the internet.
Admit it, you miss this.
Anyway, because I grew up before the digital age came to full force, I’m markedly different from the generations that came after mine. When the internet or the cable goes down, I don’t freak out. In fact, sometimes I fantasize about what life would be like if some solar flare knocked out the internet and cable television indefinitely and people had to start faxing things again and sending letters through the mail. In other words, technology has not influenced my biological development.
What do I mean by that? I mean that, quite simply, my brain grew and developed without the internet. I’ve heard that video games and the internet make children better multi-taskers and improve hand-eye coordination. That’s all swell and fine. But what else are we doing to the brains of children? What are we doing to the neural connections in a 2 year old’s brain when we give him or her an iPad? Are we changing the way children perceive time or how much patience they have by letting them grow up in a world where gratification is constant and instantaneous?
I also worry about the problem-solving abilities of children who were born into the internet age. What will the internet do to their ability to think if they never have to actually do it? Why bother learning anything if Google can provide the answer to any question at any time? What happens to original thinking when you spend all of your time consuming, constantly? Do kids today seem whiny and entitled? Well maybe that’s because they’ve never known a world where everything wasn’t at their fingertips, literally. Does the nature of reality or how you experience or perceive it change when you spend more time interacting with an artificial world than you do interacting with the real one?
“I Google, therefore I am.”
It’s still too early to see what the long term ramifications of the internet are on the brains of the latest generations. As with most other things, the ways in which we use and interact with technology aren’t written in stone. It will be interesting to see what the future holds and in which direction we proceed.