I have found myself saying to my son, “When I was a kid we…,” making the comparison in such a way that my childhood memory was a significantly better alternative than his childhood now. To me, it truly was. I’m not just being an old person.
I feel like we were expected to rely on ourselves a whole lot more, and because of that, we developed skills like resilience, problem-solving and negotiation, which my son has not had the opportunity to develop.
I wonder if our reliance on technology had reduced that reliance on ourselves – after all, we would happily walk to our friends’ places after school and then ring Mum from there to ask her if we could stay over. And have to walk home if Mum said no.
We would disappear for hours from all communication devices and no one would panic about where we were.
There was no way to check on our well-being – if someone fell out of a tree and broke an arm, they walked home, in pain, helped by their friends, with a broken arm. They survived. And got a hero’s welcome at school the next day when everyone wanted to sign their cast.
We rode our bikes without helmets and hurt ourselves often coming off them. I remember hurtling down hills that now, as a grown-up, I would blanch to ride down without at least a touch on the brakes. But a bruise or a graze from taking a tumble off your bike was a mark of pride.
We had television and, if our Mum allowed it, we would have watched all the time – but our Mum didn’t. We were chucked outside, or put to doing chores, or we were on our bikes, flying over to our friend’s places. We had a cubby house, mud puddles where we made pies decorated with daisies we picked, we created little plays and skits that we performed for our parents. Sometimes, we just went outside and wandered around, followed by the dog. Wandering was a perfectly acceptable pastime.
If you wanted to play games, you would play a board game or a card game. Sometimes, you would play them by yourself, which was a bit crappy, but if no one else wanted to play, that’s what you did.
Is now better? When my parents were saying “When we were kids…” they were talking about the 1950’s and 1960’s. Their childhood was grounded in relative prosperity, improving healthcare and lifespans, enormous changes in pop culture and populist movements, but still, I think, quite a sheltered and innocent life.
By my childhood, the late 1970’s and 1980’s, we had nations called superpowers, we still had prosperity and improving healthcare, computers became more accessible, but still not the anchor of society they are now, nuclear war was an imminent threat. Perhaps a little less sheltered and innocent – by those times we locked our doors when we left the house, and Mum had part-time work so that we could get by comfortably.
Fast forward to now, the superpowers have settled their differences (perhaps temporarily), prosperity is only found in pockets of society, even for the wealthiest of countries, our lifespan is the longest it has ever been but our relative health is not, if my son wants to go to a friend’s house, I drive him there, both parents have to work to pay the mortgage, and computers in our pockets are common.
I always know where my son is because he has a mobile phone. I’m not concerned about his wellbeing, because he’s right there, next to me, on his computer. I ask him if he has any friends, and he tells me he talks to them all the time – over the computer and on his phone.
He doesn’t believe he is missing out on anything. He is happy in his little cocoon, his only actual contact with other people forced on him at school and by me. He’s learning programming at school, and big chunks of history and language and literature are left out.
Is now better?
In my humble opinion, no. I think we reached a point just after the turn of the century where we peaked, and everything that has happened since is coming down the other side of the mountain, our bikes out of control, and our knees and elbows skinned.
I think we have given up some of our humanity to become one linked human race.
I think we have given up some of our best basic skills for alternative skills which, while useful in this new, connected world, have left us less connected than we ever were.
I think we will be the generation remembered for not leaving a trace. Letters, photographs, music, books… they all exist electronically, but not in forms that someone will be able to ‘find’ later, without access to technology.
And I think we tacitly have accepted that technology is the only way we can continue to march the human race forward, and we have forgotten that the basis of humanity is our interaction and compassion and fellow-feeling and that no amount of talking to someone over a wire can compare to talking to someone face to face, touching their skin, their face, giving them a hug or a kiss. Will virtual reality eventually replace ‘real’ reality? I hope not. For there, I think, we will lose our souls.