A recent letter in your newspaper ended with the following statement: “Now the children are busy on their laptops or texting on their phones, and they no longer share the community of their parents.” As I read the statement, I reflected on this sentiment, which seemed not only an odd way to end a letter on the Holocaust, but a depressing sentiment towards children, technology, and communication.
I am of the generation born in the early 1970s, which means I grew up during the evolution of home computing and rapid communication. My generation, now exiting our 30s and entering our 40s, was probably the first to heavily use modern communication devices.
In the early 1980s, we communicated using bulletin-board services and computer modems over phone lines. I recall then the “old people” bemoaning the same old drivel about the end of the world due to children having something to do other than stare at the ceiling or play outside. I also recalled these were the same people who invented such family-bonding communication skills as, “children should be seen and not heard” and, “You eat at the kids table’ (although I still prefer the latter, even at the childish age of 39).
In every walk of life, technology has made people more accessible, more communicative and more knowledgeable. I can communicate with a childhood friend (who now lives in Italy) in real time and from anywhere, even an airplane or on a boat. My son can check in with his friends in the Netherlands from his computer, and they can do so in English and Dutch (and sometimes French if the translator is turned on). I can do business with people around the world without leaving my family for two weeks as we did “way back” in the 1990s — and when I do have to leave, someone can send me a video of an important event as it occurs.
I can assure you that between 1972 and 1992 my grandmother saw me perhaps twice a year. This meant that, over the course of my lifetime until her death, she saw me perhaps 40 or 50 times. Distance and the cost of things such as long-distance phone calls and gasoline prohibited much more.
Contrast that to what children can do today on their laptops and texting on their phones. My son speaks to his grandmother almost daily (on her iPhone). We send my parents pictures with such frequency we are sometimes asked to stop. We share with each other through video conferencing from airplanes, trains and hotels — sometimes on the other side of the world.
Communication through modern technologies makes his world incredibly accessible and has created communities that know each other better, understand each other more intimately, and contribute more to each other’s lives than ever before. You can choose to stand on the sidelines and complain, or you can choose to understand it, embrace it, and maybe even get a picture from your grandson on your iPhone every now and again.