Kids, Tech and the Social Media

So, I’ve been thinking. (Never a good thing)

Would you consider signing your children up for an experiment? I would like to change the way they interact with every aspect of their lives, from how they see time, to how they converse with family and friends, to how they learn and envision the world. I would do this by attaching a devise to their bodies that they would have to consult thousands of times a month in order to function in society. Then we would set them loose and see how they turn out in 10 or 15 years. No safety net allowed!

What makes this experiment interesting is that you’ve already signed them up for it.

Kids these days see a clock as a series of minutes clicking by on a digital device, rather than as two sets of twelve hours, with high noon dividing the day in half – a completely different view of the progression of time from what has been traditional.

Teens text an average of 3400 times each and every month, adding both the immediacy of constant contact, and the distance of a fractional interaction, to every relationship. Are all these “friends” really friends? How easy would it be to substitute these relationships for real ones, which would require work, and personal contact? How will this affect them as their lives progress?

Children learn by searching the Internet, rather than by hitting the library. They won’t see the information in the paper pages surrounding the one they searched for, but they will see all the other stuff that pops up with their search words. It is impossible to know how this will shape their store of knowledge and the way they think, but it is undeniable that it will have an affect.

Video games are everywhere and unavoidable. If your image of a female is a comic with huge breasts and torn clothing, how does that affect how you see yourself, if you are a girl? If blowing things up and chopping at people with a sword are every day activities, surely that will desensitize you to violence.

Who knows what new tech will come out next year, or in ten years, and how it will change our world.

Exposure to the Internet and technology is impossible to avoid. Your children live in this generation, and will have to function within its norm.  The young man without the cell phone will not be invited to the party; the young woman who doesn’t understand the slang used by her peers will get an eye roll and be left standing alone. The intern who looks blank when the boss asks him or her to create a spreadsheet to perform a task or analysis, will not be hired.

If you were to decide it was not worth the risks and tried to limit your children’s access to tech, they would find a way. No one wants to be that kid, and the future demands they have the knowledge and ability.

So what sorts or results might this great social experiment yield?

First, a redefinition of privacy.  What was previously clear – behind the closed curtains, of course! – is now murky. Where does our personal space end, and shared space begin? Embarrassing baby photos in an album can be tucked away on a shelf. This generation will have a childhood full of embarrassing pictures logged on Facebook, for anyone to see.  What should be kept private, and how will we manage it? Perhaps people will become more kind, because they too will have bathtub pictures.

Everyone needs down time. Time spent away from work, away from even friends, is essential for our sanity, yet tech can always find us, and invades every inch of our space. We will need new rules to make us inaccessible in this age of texting, webcams and Skype. Perhaps a privacy button, with an automated butler to take a visitors card for delivery later, when one is “in”?

With knowledge available at the touch of a button, will our children be expected to know more? If information about the new guy’s culture can be had with a keystroke, what reason would there be for ignorance? Laziness, or intentional bigotry? There used to be a limit to our “pocket knowledge.” Now the world fits in our pocket. How do our children live up to that?

The world at one time rotated slowly, and generations could go by before any real change happened. Now every minute brings a new change. Will this make our children frightened and insecure? Or will they be more open to change, more engaged in every moment of the time they are given? Further, could they become change junkies, needing new things constantly to stave off boredom?

Where will this stream of new ideas come from? Creative geniuses are the rock stars of the future.  If creativity is valued above graces like beauty or strength, might our children be unleashed to let free their imaginations? Conversely, will the next generation be judged harshly when they lack technical skills, the way prior generations have been condemned for lack of athletic ability or beauty? Or can we learn to accept the beauty of human diversity, since it will be apparent on a screen in the palm of our hand?

In the same way it is hard with our current technology to maintain privacy, so will it be hard to maintain our distance from the rest of humanity. If we want to believe we are somehow different from and better than other humans, we have to do our best to not see and understand them. This is hard to do when a family suffering on the other side of the world can be on your computer screen instantly, and they can join into the stream of consciousness on your twitter feed.

It is impossible to know how technology will change humanity, but it is inevitable that we will be forced to evolve. So dive in.

Participate in your child’s experience with technology, and inspire them to use it to increase their understanding of the world and express their creativity. Show them the risks, and make sure they understand the responsibilities. Then step back and watch, because the Internet and the array of technological advances available now and into the future gives this generation, no matter their circumstances, the tools to understand each other better than any prior generation, and to do any amazing thing they can imagine. It will be an adventure!

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