Saturday, May 12, 2012

Zombie Apocalypse & Rock'n'Roll

I’ve been struggling with the issue of technology and education and video games and kids not ever going outside or having face-to-face discussions or dealing with the world that is right in front of them. I bring up nagging fears about fried brains and the militarism in video games and kids never going outside to smell a tree. I send up trial balloons on Facebook just to hear people weigh in on both (or rather, four or five) sides of the question.

I struggle because of Douglas Adams.

“Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

It sets up a very neat and accurate tension between the generations; it examines not just this tension but your age when certain developments in tech are made. When I was in high school, it was cutting-edge to make a mixed tape or pirate someone's record onto cassette; some friends were really into CB radios. This was the tech we had. Then in 1986, when I was 25, I saw my first PC and fell in lust. I got my first one in 1989 and started seriously writing plays. Somehow computers just helped the flow of my thoughts. (I should say here that I may never write plays as well as when I had WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS.)

The Internet boomed when I was about 32, and I got a job building the Village Voice's first website. Jibes with Adams' rules neatly.

I accept these rules as accurate, and I try to fight them. That’s the reason why I struggle. I don’t have to...I could just go through my life thinking we’re all going to hell in a handbasket, like our parents and their parents and their parents. We are so convinced that what we are losing in this march forward amounts to a disintegration of life, the universe, and everything.

But really, when you look at it, everything is our fault. And by “our” I mean adults of around age 50, give or take ten years or so, who were the ones for whom the advances into personal computers and the Internet and cellular telephony were new and exciting and revolutionary, and we got a career out of it. We created the first websites. It is our generation who developed the first really cool cell phones. Created the video games. And now we are aghast.

Every single generation has set up the one that comes after by the lives they led, and every single new generation causes their elders to believe we are all going to hell in a handbasket.

It could be that we can do nothing about this generational tension; it, too, is part of the natural order of things. But when I think of rock and roll music and the end of the world that it was supposed to bring about, it makes me want to struggle with the idea of these terrible video games.

It is just possible that the evil that we see in complex video games, the fear in our hearts that our children will become addicted to them, is based on our own ignorance of what these games really mean. See, most people my age don’t play them, therefore we react to the surface without looking into the back-end, the game end, which causes the kids who play them to learn and learn and learn. But we don’t play them, so we don’t know.

There’s another great thinker about technology and society. Marc Prensky is the guy who came up with the phrases “digital native” and “digital immigrant.”

Digital natives have a native understanding of technology, because they were available and they had access to them during the years in which they were growing up. They opened their eyes and saw that the world had computers, cell phones and Internets.  Sure, it’s not genetic; you can avoid your kids becoming digital natives. They'll probably be fine. But you're imposing your generational beliefs on them.

You can see the native vs. immigrant thing clearly when my kids get together with their grandparents. Eli was around 12 or 13 when he explained to my husband’s parents how to use the built-in GPS in their new car. I think I would not be slandering them by saying the forgot what he said almost immediately. A year ago, my parents got a really nice camera but couldn't figure out how to use it. My daughter, then 10,  took it, walked away for five minutes, walked back and taught my father how to use it. She has the concept of trying something, going back, trying again until you've figured it out, down cold; that is also how one uses the Web. You have to have the confidence that if you keep trying stuff you will figure it out, and along the way, you’re learning.

My folks will never have that. They can't do anything but do exactly what they were told with a piece of technology, and if it doesn’t work, they call my kids.

For those who worry about the impact that this technology has on kids; for those who see a weekend spent trying to level-up as a weekend wasted, I give you the words of my cousin Ron. “Children don’t learn from what you tell them. They learn from who you are, and you can’t hide that.”

It’s not about the technology; it’s about parenting; it’s about educating.  It’s not about protecting kids from oncoming doom; it’s about open communication and modeling of good values. It could also be about sitting with our kids trying to nail a few zombies ourselves, just to experience it as they do. 

The world isn’t going to hell in a handbasket; it’s shifting. If we want to manage the shift so that we raise our kids to have our values, the ball is in our court. But to simply line up with Adams’ rules, to accept them and not struggle with our natural reaction against new stuff...well. Just look at what rock and roll did to us!