The phrase has all kinds of connotations, most of them associated with teenage misadventures in more movies than I can count. For me, it was just a spur-of-the-moment opportunity to spend one-on-one time with my son. So we took advantage of his Spring break and took off for Kentucky.
When I was a kid, road trips usually meant lots of hours spent looking out the window at the country, and a lot of time just thinking. After all, after playing “I Spy” for an hour, what else was there to do?
Things are rather different now. For the first couple of days, it seemed as though my son and his iPad were on a road trip by themselves, and I was just the driver. With his head shrouded by a pillow to block the sun as he watched movies, a lot of interesting country went by unseen. Fortunately, the movies ran out eventually, and we ended up spending the time together that I had hoped we would.
But the experience made me think. Every recent generation has had a technology that tended to alienate it from the generation before. In the sixties, kids went around with transistor radios stuck to their ears. In the seventies and eighties, it was boom boxes, in the nineties it was Walkmans, and in the early 2000s it was the iPod. And now it’s the smart phone (and iPad).
In other words, all kids in the last half-century or so have had their own special, technologically enhanced way of tuning out their parents, to the chagrin of the parents. What their kids were doing was so different from their own experience, it just didn’t seem right. And yet, each generation has turned out okay, despite the worries of the elders.
For me, the explosion of smart phone technology and instant, constant connectivity is nothing short of mind-boggling — and sometimes overwhelming. I tread lightly through that maze. But middle school kids (like my son) have no experience with any other reality, and they eagerly embrace it. It shapes their world view in ways I sometimes struggle to comprehend.
My own childhood was rich with experience in the real world and with face-to-face interaction, and I worry that my son and his friends are missing out on these things. On the other hand, they are having life experiences of an entirely different sort. What effect will immersion in our new digital, virtual, social-media reality have on them? Is this just the same old story of new generations and new technology, or is it really different this time?
Like kids throughout history, they are adapting to their world. But if doing so further separates them from the natural world, the world upon which we depend for our existence, is this a dangerous trend? This short YouTube video explores the issue:
I’d be very interested in what others think.