For the last half century, we’ve experienced incredible leaps in technology. Thing that were a fantasy of science fiction just a generation ago are now commonplace items. Electronic storage allows us to store thousands of ebooks on a tiny micro-SD card. Movies were once stored on huge reels of film, before moving on to videotape, then DVD, then finally flash memory. Satellites and broadcast towers bring phone and broadcast signals right to us, while microwave ovens cook our food in minutes.
My children are growing up in a technological age that I couldn’t dream of when I was their age. And yet, there is part of me that feels sorry for them. Because of the prevalence of advanced technology there are things that my kids take for granted qualified as “special moments” for me as a child.
In 1977, I was a young child and vividly remember my father taking me to see the original Star Wars movie. At the time, we lived in Clifton (the area surrounding the University of Cincinnati), and were within walking distance of a movie theater. I still remember walking past the university, the warm summer air, and waiting in line with a mob of people waiting for the first glimpse of Darth Vader. The reason this memory sticks out in my mind isn’t because it was a great movie (although to this day, the original is my favorite of the franchise); instead, I remember it because a movie was a special event.
At the time of Star Wars, we had one television in the house, a bulky console set that took up half the living room, yet had a tiny and fuzzy (by today’s standards) screen. There were three VHF and two UHF channels, none of which broadcast twenty-four hours a day, and none of which were dedicated movie channels. Sure, there was the ABC Sunday Night Movie, but as a young kid, I was often not permitted to stay up that late to watch the movie. And more often than not, the movie was not something most kids would want to watch.
Who remembers Saturday morning cartoons? For those of us growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, we spent all week looking forward to Saturday mornings. It was the one time when the big three networks (ABC, NBC and CBS) really catered to us little people. Scooby-Doo, Spaceghost, Tarzan, Superfriends…the list could go on. I was always up early, and thought it was so incredible that cartoons were on the TV until one in the afternoon.
Today’s kids have no concept of why these were memorable events. Cable, satellite, and a variety of on-demand services like Netflix allow them to watch a cartoon or movie any day, any time. Or they can jump online and watch YouTube or a host of other online video sites. They could also pop in a dvd or Blu-ray. Yes, they appreciate the entertainment, but because of the availability, it isn’t special.
I can remember when my school got its first computer for the students. It was an Apple iie, and was put on a cart to be moved from classroom to classroom so everyone has the chance to experience the modern world of computers. Oregon trail was the game to play, not because it was so good, but because it was the only game the school owned. I still remember those eight-bit graphics that only vaguely resembled the people and animals they were supposed to represent. The game lagged and sometimes crashed. And yet, I remember playing that game like it happened yesterday.
My children have laptop and desktop computers at their disposal in every classroom of the school; they also use tablets on a daily basis. They all began computer instruction in Kindergarten, and are more experienced with office software than most adults. At home, they play games on computers, tablets, and an Xbox. The games have lifelike graphics; no imagination required. And yet, because it is routine, playing these games is not a significant event to them.
I love the technology of our era, and would never want to see it disappear. But because of its commonality, we take it for granted. Will my children look back at their childhood and point out that special thing that the next generation takes for granted? I hope they can, and hope they will.