parenthood, Sam

Things Sam Will Never Know

Stacy Johnson at Money Talks News compiles a list of “30 Things Babies Born in 2011 Will Never Know.” Among them are already endangered cultural artifacts like video tape, dial-up internet and paper maps. Hard to argue with those. Others, however, struck us as suspect. From her list:

  • Books, magazines, and newspapers: Like video tape, words written on dead trees are on their way out. Sure, there may be books – but for those born today, stores that exist solely to sell them will be as numerous as record stores are now.
  • Hand-written letters: For that matter, hand-written anything. When was the last time you wrote cursive? In fact, do you even know what the word “cursive” means? Kids born in 2011 won’t – but they’ll put you to shame on a tiny keyboard.
  • Talking to one person at a time: Remember when it was rude to be with one person while talking to another on the phone? Kids born today will just assume that you’re supposed to use texting to maintain contact with five or six other people while pretending to pay attention to the person you happen to be physically next to.

Then there is “the separation of work and home.” “When you’re carrying an email-equipped computer in your pocket, it’s not just your friends who can find you – so can your boss,” Johnson says. “For kids born this year, the wall between office and home will be blurry indeed.”

Likewise, Johnson contends that the next generation won’t be able to forget anything — be it friends (“The next generation will automatically be in touch with everyone they’ve ever known even slightly via Facebook”) or, well, anything else (“Kids born this year will never know what it was like to stand in a bar and incessantly argue the unknowable. Today the world’s collective knowledge is on the computer in your pocket or purse. And since you have it with you at all times, why bother remembering anything?”).

Now, we are not proponents of technological determinism (basically, the belief that technology is the basis for all human activity). We’re stubbornly old-fashioned when it comes to things like books, handwritten letters and lawn mowers. We don’t believe old=good and new=bad, but we don’t subscribe to the belief that anything new and innovative must inherently be better.

Stacy Johnson may not call herself a technological determinist either. She might contend she is simply a realist, or even a casual bystander observing and speculating about the rapid change technology brings to our culture. But she is clearly in thrall to a future without these things; she variously calls them “silly,” “expensive,” “obsolete” and “nonsense,” exuding a snide condescension to all things antiquated.

Regardless of her tone, what if Johnson is right? It’s anybody’s guess what the future will look like. (Granted, we usually guess wrong. Scientists have just four years left to invent a hover board.) Johnson’s hardly controversial claim is not that she can see the future, only that she knows it will be different than the present.

It would be foolish of us to raise a 21st century child in the 20th century. That said, we don’t want to tuck Sam in for bed and pull out an electronic handheld device on which to read Dr. Seuss. We don’t want him thinking it’s acceptable to communicate with six people at once while ignoring the person sitting right next to him. We certainly don’t want him to believe there are never boundaries between work and home, or public and private. (“Hiding” is another concept Johnson considers quaint: “Now your phone is not only in your pocket, it can potentially tell everyone – including advertisers – exactly where you are.”)

The question Johnson doesn’t ask, but which her predictions surely raise, is whether or not this is the kind of future we want our children to live in. One of the hardest things about parenting must be instilling old-fashioned values without attaching them to old-fashioned artifacts; or, put another way, not being an ol’ fuddy-duddy. The future can become a scary thing once you have a child to send into it. It requires a choice not to be afraid of the unknown.

The writer Neil Postman, in his book Technopoly, argues that we must become “loving resistance fighters” to technological change, people who “use technology rather than [be] used by it.” This is what we wish for Sam. We hope he does not allow technology to rob him of life’s analog pleasures. We hope one day (when he’s of age) he’ll know what it’s like to stand in a bar and incessantly argue the unknowable; that he won’t confuse information with knowledge; and that he won’t think his parents square simply because we don’t want to be hip.


5 thoughts on “Things Sam Will Never Know

  1. Don’t worry, Vores: either the world as we know it will come to an end through one or more of the following: environmental disaster, energy crisis, resource depletion, or zombie apocalypse; or our kids will be victims of the erosion of the middle class and won’t be able to afford such things. In any case they won’t be able to have all the technology whose effects you’re concerned about.

    Also, I’m always glad to see a Neil Postman reference. It’s all about the hidden effects of technologies and our relationship to it.

  2. Um, thanks, John. Your comment has prompted us not to leave the house for the next 30 years. (After we finish building our fallout shelter, of course.)

  3. No problem; I’m always glad to help. Sometimes the optimists and pessimists need to be reminded that the glass is neither half-full nor half-empty… it’s about to be stolen. Someone else is about to take your glass and drink the rest of whatever it was. And then break your glass. And threaten you with a shard.

    Oh, and Happy New Year!

  4. I hear you brother, but don’t think that your advice/warning will be heeded. I remind you of the House of Horrors that Ben calls a “nursery”.

    Nothing other than terror is being nursed there.

    I’m still nursing a grudge over that sweet brick patio & fire pit.

  5. Mike – you have a gazebo: that trumps a sweet brick patio with or without a fire pit. All I know is I can’t keep my kids off the facebook. Just last night Eliot posted on my wall that he needed a diaper change – so I texted Lena to take care of it and through all of this Iz and I were reading on our Kindles. I was reading Dear John and Iz was reading Swimsuit. Try and get Colleen off her Ipad during bathtime and you will get shot.

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