When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.
I grew up in Australia, in a small town about 100 miles north west of Sydney. In the famous Hunter Valley, home of some of the most earthy, luscious reds produced on the planet.
We had access to two TV channels – the local commercial station and the national government one. Boy were we lucky! But not as lucky as my friend. He had the local channels plus a big antenna that enabled him to get the extra three channels from Sydney, even though they were a bit snowy. I used to enjoy going over to his house, where, in between the normalcy of riding bikes, playing with the hose and doing what kids did in the 60s, we’d come inside to watch the Munsters, the Three Stooges or other fare that the local commercial channel didn’t have.
Then the shows would be over. A quick snack and back outside.
Social networking for us was hassling the gang down the street, or avoiding the bully on the next block or forging teams to create the next cricket challenge at the local park. TV wasn’t that important. It was special. The programs were really pretty bland, but sufficiently exciting because they seemed rare, even exotic.
Growing up interested in electronics, I got involved in amateur radio, got a degree in computer engineering, got a masters and embarked upon the lonely, untrodden path of digiterati who were at the intersection of media and computers. The rest as they say is history.
Fast forward 20 odd years…
Imagine my delight when I started my iTunes collection. All of this content! It brought me back to the days of my youth. That same excitement of experiencing not two, but five TV channels! Choice at any instant! As I proceeded to digitize my entire CD collection the paradox of choice suddenly struck me. There was too much to choose.
So, play a little of everything.
Before long that got pretty boring.
I still love music, but my selections of regularly played material do not span the entire library.
Over the years this has really bugged me and I noticed a few behavioral changes:
- My attention span has reduced somewhat. The constant drive for more, sometimes overcomes the need for depth and/or detail.
- I can thread more than one thought process at once quite easily, without significant diminished comprehension. Multitasking is a learned skill.
- Finding stuff is frustrating, but it forces me to think about different ways of searching until I get what I want. Thinking differently becomes a survival imperative in the pursuit of brain food.
Now. I submit, that this is behavior learned, probably due to my proximity to, and engineering curiosity of, technology. Learning has always been my main modus. But consider if I had been born later when all of this was as familiar to me as an analog B&W TV set without a remote control was back when I was a kid. Growing up with this multifaceted technological landscape would be stimulating beyond! Or, not knowing any better, it would be simply the way things are, and I’d just use it as it directed me… technology with user interfaces in control.
There are generational differences in the way we think, act and consequently behave. The following chart would clearly have been sci-fi when I was rolling around on the lounge room floor in front of the B&W TV many years ago. But it does illustrate the emerging status quo.
I believe that in spite of what we think, humanity is getting smarter. Access to information, both raw and processed is far greater. If we were to draw an analogy to food, humanity has benefited from food production and processing technologies. Even though I am not a fan of monkeying around with food, it did on average increase life expectancies from the baseline of old. So it is with information. Let us just hope that we’ll be smart enough to not allow information to become too fast, over processed and too preserved. Imagine suffering information obesity in the coming days!
Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.