Louis CK is right: everything is amazing, and nobody is happy.
Nothing drives this home like explaining to your child how fantastic of a time he’s living in. Of course, that’s a one-way mirror – my son just stares at me probably much like I stared at my own father when he said he didn’t have color TV when he was a kid. My thought was pretty much, “Wow. That really sucks. Can you get out of the way now, please? You’re blocking Scooby-Doo.”
Two nights ago, I embarked upon the Time-Honored Tradition and explained to my son that he’s living in likely the most magical age in human history. I told him we enjoy the fortunate confluence of technology, entertainment and information access that’s never before been seen. We have massive industries being disrupted at an every-half-decade clip, and things are only accelerating.
Books? Soon to be relegated to the nostalgia closet. Movie theaters? The advent of HDTVs and spectacular home theater systems make a $60.00 night out at the movies seem positively anachonistic. Dictionaries, reference materials – heck, libraries: thanks to Google, all outmoded for most of the population. In a nation of instant gratification addicts, we’re living in a vertiable opium den.
I was trying to explain to my son that the iPhone I carry in my pocket is more technology than I ever had growing up, period. He just stared at me.
“The first video game I ever played was Pong,” I explained, trying to juxtapose that against the perfectly rendered 3D worlds and smooth animation he can see on a phone. “It was two paddles that batted a ball back and forth, and when one player missed the ball the other got a point.” I drew a little diagram on a piece of paper to illustrate this horribly difficult concept. “It was all black and white. No color.”
“That was the whole game?” he asked, earnestly, eyes fixed on mine.
“Yeah. That was it.” I had the brief glimmer my perspective-setting lesson might be sinking in …
… or not.
Just Look It Up, Dad
Learning something new used to require effort.
I remember going to libraries and poring over encyclopedias and microfiche just to research, say, population density in Michigan. That took a car ride, some arranging of a pick up time, most likely haranguing a friend into going, getting dropped off, goofing around in the library and making ptoo-ptoo Star Wars noises at each other, and finally digging out the BAZ-BET encyclopedia volume and flipping around until you found what you wanted. Total elapsed time: about three hours and as many people involved.
Today, I click on my WolframAlpha bookmark, enter ‘population density michigan’, and boom, results – minus the two car rides and several dozen ptoo’s.
Elapsed time: seven seconds.
Some have called this intellectual laziness and an excuse not to learn new material. Why, the argument goes, would you learn rote facts when you can have them at your fingertips?
I could not agree more. I’m an information junkie in the worst way, and I suppose that’s why, anytime a factual question comes up, my son grabs his iPad, hits the Google box, and searches on whatever we’re taking about.
What’s a TV Guide?
My son thinks the idea of a TV guide – a book that lists all TV programs and their respective viewing times – is cute. Cute as in ridiculous.
“Couldn’t you just record shows and watch them when you wanted?” he asks.
“No. Nothing to record on. We had to be in front of the TV when a show was on, or we missed it.”
“Buddy, no tapes. Tapes came before DVRs. You probably don’t even remember tapes, do you?”
“I’ve seen them, but never used them.”
“You have it good these days, buddy. You can watch whatever you want when you want, and if there’s a movie you want to see, you just stream it from Netflix from the Internet. Know what we used to have to do?”
“We used to have to get in the car, drive to a movie rental place, go in, see if they had the movie – and a lot of times they didn’t, it was already checked out by someone else – pay $3.12, get back in the car, drive home, put the tape in the VCR and hope we had the right movie or it wasn’t screwed up.”
“Wow. That’s a lot just for a movie.”
“Actually, back then that was easy. Before that, you had to go to a movie theater. Or never see the movie. That was how it was.”
“Wow,” he says.
“Yeah, wow buddy. Amazing times. I keep telling you that.”
“So what do you want to do? We have a few hours before soccer.”
“I don’t know Dad. I’m so bored.
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