12 May 2011
The Juxtaposition of Nature and Human Nature
Many of us are on the edge of our seats every time that a new digital device (or greater permutation on the old) is released for public consumption. This lust for the next best thing is not generation-specific. It’s more synapse-connected, where the mind is juiced and invigorated by the mere anticipation of innovative elements linked to new products.
Research and studies substantiate the effects of new technology on culture and society. Historically, these changes seeped into the home where family life and work was reassessed, redesigned and redirected with each new invention. The list of products that led to the digital media age is lengthy. For me the most relevant are the: printing press (1440-1450), photograph (1839), gramophone (1896), telephone (1876), Victrola (1906), typewriter (1880s), Wurlitzer (1946), Polaroid (1948), television (1930s), Xerox copier (1959), Analog Cellular Phone (1960s), Kodak Instamatic (1963), Apple computer (1984), NeXT computer (1988), Apple PowerBook (1991), Apple iPod (2001), and Apple iPad (2010). Obviously, there is no direct line between early technological inventions (e.g., tools and the wheel) and today’s designs, but they are intertwined; they’re also so many that a flow chart is a challenge to create.
The digital age has added another variable to home life. In fact, many recent articles relive the power of digital media to bring families together in new ways: Just as T.V did. With both having the ability to build a family’s evening together, or scatter children and parents throughout the household.
For those of us growing up in the post-television sensation, the layers of “new” seemed to pass in warp speed: ample time to adjust. But today’s output is mind-bending. After I purchased the iPad, it’s sibling was introduced only a few months later.
This twenty-first century mania to keep the consumer consuming digital and social media is transformative. We can retreat into the screen, or take it in small doses (good luck on that). We’re hooked, and our bodies and brains are doing their own dances to comply. But those of us over a certain age were not raised on computers from childhood, and that means our world requires intervention.
Some time ago I noticed that most new digital devices no longer come equipped with those hard-to-read manuals. Now these products are loaded and ready for instant use.
When my iPad was lifted out of its original box, I certainly was not an instant expert. At the Apple store they helped me input my personal settings. Their quicky introduction lacks the knowledge needed to roam beneath its caverns. So what happens when you’re setting in your home giddy as you hold your new tablet computer and no one around to help?
Most twenty-first century technological wonders are packed with user-friendly non-directions (You sort of guess what to do. If it doesn’t work, you try another tactic.), and each success builds your skills for the next. But after you’re passed the initial thrill and navigated the top layer of stuff, you want to dive into the device’s inherent possibilities. What to do?
Suddenly, I was inundated with choices. But all of them were brief–the icing without the cupcake.
Even with a quick workshop at the Apple store, an online video tutorial, and word-of-mouth sharing with other users (family and friends), none were more fun and steady then my intuitive and knowledgeable grandchildren, who are 14 and 12.
During this experience I realized that they have been serving as digital technology assistants for years. It’s curious and humbling. At their young ages, they have an innate sense how these gadgets work. They just get it. This duo finds overt and subtle ways to show me shortcuts or explain parameters of a game or how to organize icons on the iPad’s desktop or…
I am computer literate, but my working knowledge is minimal compared to the treasure trove that one can access. Still, I get what I need. I also love a challenge, and have been known to learn new software for print and digital publishing with minimal help. Every effort builds confidence and know-how.
And I love sitting side-by-side with my grandchildren in the throes of the interactive: their immersion into video-game culture. I’m not invested (literally) in lots of apps, but I do love my word games. And there is the bonus of playing with them: they at their house, me at mine.
Cultural historian John Berger (1926- ) is known for his commentary about how technology brings most of the world to us (e.g., we see an original painting in a European museum but it’s a virtual view, changing the entire experience). The digital realm has made it impossible to be a Renaissance thinker, but has created new generations (my grandchildren) of more eclectic learners and maybe even humanists. They’re learning scores of information about culture and society, but minus some of the personal experiences that are needed to shape minds. We’re knee deep in an entirely different realm of knowledge acquisition. Some are even calling for an academic department devoted to digital media and learning (shared knowledge between disciplines such as cultural studies and media studies and communication and cognitive sciences).
In my small world I’m happy to be part of this cultural and educational explosion. I’m also happy to have my own cost-free digital media assistants, who help me break down barriers and shore my abilities.