This concise encapsulation of the millennial experience – ‘Analog Childhoods, Digital adulthoods’ represents a facet of one of the most unique experiences in the history of mankind. Possibly, during a generation’s lifetime many millennia ago they went from wanderers to farmers when they suddenly found wheat or lived through life-changing religious upheavals. But in the recent past, it is hard to imagine a generation that faced the unique challenge of growing up in a completely different social atmosphere and then spending the rest of their adult lives in another.
Unless you were frozen in time (like Fry in Futurama), the bizarre changes in humanity experienced due to the internet, social-media, artifical intelligence which crystallized from centuries of physics, chemistry, medical and biological breakthroughs are hard to miss. Everything you do today, from shopping and running errands to professional skills ,from interacting with people to exercising has undergone such a massive transformation in the past decade and half, it is easy to forget how different things were not so long ago. The childhoods of the 90’s which included lots of 2-D cartoons, playing outside for hours, physical textbooks, classrooms with chalk and dusters, family vacations either spent in cousin’s places getting bored or trying to make new friends in the new apartment blocks, simpler birthday parties, rarity of restaurant foods and waiting for a movie on a Sunday afternoon to come on the TV was just 20 years ago! Phones were rotary, televisions were massive and personal computers had just started trickling in. We (the millennials) remember all of it very clearly. We patiently waited to record songs on cassettes when they came on TV, used pencils to rewind tapes, browsed through the occasional video store for movies to watch and had no trouble spending the evenings outside, hanging out with friends or reading books and browsing magazines.
I write all this to help reflect on the contrast of our adult lives. You don’t need this blog to assimilate the difference in life today. Computers are ubiquitous and we are the generation that became true expert programmers, invented new skill sets and whole new industries based on manipulating them. We became the whiz-kids of graphics transforming the video-game industry upending childhoods and the experience of gaming. We killed physical books, made movies available at the click of a button and made ordering/eating restaurant food a breeze. We changed all hardware – from computerized cars, everyday appliances to fitness wear to TV’s and the most pervasive of all – phones. The impact of all this revolution has been transformative on a personal level. As many of us step into adult worlds who have to raise children, it is tough to compete with humans brought directly into this world of ipads, iphones, plasma screen TVs, smart-everything. Numerous studies and articles describe the struggles of software professionals working at smart phone companies whose day jobs are to make the device attractive, addictive and functional, trying to keep their own kids away from these devices. It is a leap of faith on behalf of every teacher who uses smart boards and apps to grade, test and teach, when she/he has never been taught using one. Are they really better than the old-school methods? Only time will tell.
But all this technology has indeed made life easier in many aspects too. Paying bills happens at the click of a button, all of the world’s information is available on our fingertips, we can communicate daily with people on the other side of the globe, medical facilities have improved greatly with better imaging, sophisticated devices and good algorithms improve our life – be it commuting, better search results impacting all walks of life, better understanding of the world by unifying researchers worldwide or even just better movie recommendations. Taking advantage of these developments feels uplifting and inspirational. But every change being embraced, is a chance we humans take. As a generation straddling the analog and digital worlds, we are in a unique position to compare and contrast the pros and cons of both. Researchers are dedicating large chunks of time and resources in understanding the impact of these mind-numbing changes on the human psyche. None of the studies are anywhere close to completion. It is a question I struggle with everyday when faced with a hesitation or a choice that seems “too much” – is it just my discomfort at being pushed out of the comfort zone or is it genuinely bad. It is key to note that no generation close to us in the past or future, will have to make these choices.
As the holidays begin and the year winds down, it can be good to reflect on what we learnt this year about this new digital age – there is no benevolence in the tech sector, social-media is very harmful to humanity, tech hardware is bent on making a user addicted impacting his/her functionality in other spheres, we are more connected but less friendly, we eat more junk because it is so much easier than making our own food getting fatter and unhealthy in the process and of course, the world politically as we know it is thrown into turmoil with evidence of right-wing nationalism on the rise world over. If this all seems very gloomy, we can take solace that a fresh new year is around the corner and we can strive to rid us of the bad habits that came with digitization. We can be nicer, more communicative, spend more time with loved ones, learn some old-fashioned skills, reach out to people (and animals) in need and truly strike a balance between the old and new. Change is a great thing, only when it is positive and incremental enough to sustain well.
Happy Holiday and New Year!