by Yen-Rong Wong
My childhood was filled with the rattle of cassette and video tapes, big, clunky calculators, and the unique sound of a dial-up tone as the computer attempted to connect to the internet. I made my first email address when I was 11, as part of a school project. I used a fairly basic version of Encyclopaedia Britannica PC to look up information on the computer, played games like Zoombinis and Carmen Sandiego on CD-ROM, and learned to type under Mavis Beacon’s strict tutelage. I used a physical dictionary to uncover definitions for unknown words, a behemoth of a thesaurus to look for that elusive perfect word or phrase, and I even owned a rhyming dictionary to assist me in my short-lived poetic pursuits.
My generation watched as mobile phones morphed from bricks of silver into flip phones, sliding phones, phones with tiny keyboards, and then into smart phones. We watched as computers shrunk, before increasing in size and developing touch screen capabilities. Music and movies became more accessible. Social media blossomed, leaping from Bebo and Myspace to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
The world became a more exciting place. The possibilities for innovation, creativity, and collaboration were endless. Knowledge was literally at our fingertips. In the same breath, the world also became more dangerous. All of a sudden, people on the other side of the world could attack you without provocation. If they had enough skill, they could take all your private information and use it for their own nefarious purposes. We now live in a world where we are told to stop looking at our computers and our phones – but also a world where parents are afraid to let their children play on the street, where all of a sudden you don’t know who might be spying on you through the webcam on your laptop.
We are often told that we are the luckiest generation – we are also often told that we take too much for granted. That we don’t know the value of hard work. And yet I know that too many of my peers are working more than one job while studying, and many more are stifled by a suffocating, over-competitive job market even after they have graduated. Isn’t each successive generation supposed to be able to live a better life than the ones that came before? If so, I can’t help but think we have drawn somewhat of a short straw. As I see it, we have been – and will be left with a broken world. One that almost can’t be fixed.
I could go on – but lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the next generation, the young boys and girls who are just starting to feel out the world. I see children with iPads and iPhones, and children who throw massive tantrums when their access from these devices is restricted. But I also know that children have done amazing things with such technology. Even as somewhat of an adult, I struggle to provide myself with a middle ground when it comes to technological engagement. The world is moving so fast that we can barely keep up with it – and so what does this mean for the future? Will we reach a critical mass? And if so, what happens afterwards? The future is terrifying, but just a little exhilarating as well.
I wonder what kinds of changes my friends’ children, and hopefully my children, will see in years to come. I hope they will be positive, but I also know there will be challenges. Challenges that many people currently dismiss, and that others blow up out of proportion. I wonder how they will reflect on their childhoods, and what they will think of the world we have left behind for them.
I wonder if we will be celebrated, or if we will be hated.
Yen-Rong is a Brisbanite who is currently a third of the way through her Honours thesis. She prefers to write by hand, drinks a lot of tea, and spends an inordinate amount of time making sure her cat doesn’t totally ruin her couch. You can find her on Twitter @inexorablist, or at her website www.inexorablist.com.