Behind the picket fence
You see it all the time. Everywhere you look. Toddlers and children interacting with technology. Their little hands gliding effortlessly across screens. They talk to machines that talk back. They play games, watch movies, follow sport, take photos, do their homework, and follow their friends every move. And, they don't just bring out their "best toys" on Sundays, they interact with technology every-single-day, wherever they go.
What is perhaps more interesting is that for the younger generation, technology is not new, it just is. Just like trips to the park, and going to school, technology is just there, an every-day part of their life.
Generation Y - people born after 1978 are the first generation who have lived most of their lives in the digital world. Peter Hinssen, author of The New Normal, calls this group the digital natives and the rest of us digital immigrants, and suggests a simple test to distinguish the two. You put a camera on a table and ask: "What is this?" A digital immigrant will say: "That's a digital camera,' whereas the digital native will say: "It's a camera." Digital natives have never used an analogue camera in their lives.
Digital natives do not know of a life where phones were attached to the wall, or the real purpose of liquid paper - to rub out pesky mistakes on hand-written or typed out work. They don't know of the excitement of getting a VCR or trying to figure out what computers were and how to use them. They don't know what it is like to store phone numbers in a rolodex and keep a street directory in a car. They will never know what it was like to go out without a phone and have to make plans about where and when to meet, well in advance. They will never know the feeling of being disconnected and for that to feel normal. They will never sit on a train full of people who read books, look out the window, talk to each other. And, when they open up their (physical) mail box at home, they will expect a bill or maybe a card, but not a long hand-written letter that conveys news, thoughts, feelings and aspirations. Instead, they will see the stories of people's lives through small attention grabs of social media. Look at me. Look at me. This is now normal for our children.
There is no doubt we live in the age of technology. Every part of our lives is aided and enabled by smart technology that is evolving so quickly it is hard to even imagine what the future will look like. And, as a society, the common experience of remembering a time when technology was not an every-day part of our life (and that we were okay) is fast disappearing.
But, what about the children, these digital natives, how will technology shape their lives? Will they fondly reminisce about when the first generation iPhone came out? Will they laugh about how they used text books when they started school? Will they display the books read to them as a child, remembering a time when stories were held between the sheets of paper? And, when they grow, how will technology continue to evolve to enable them in their lives: their work, social time, health and fitness, relationships. We can't imagine how technology could advance more, but that is just old-fashioned thinking now, and our children will not fall into that trap.
As a nation, Australia is tucked away, far from the other side of the world. A place people know and love by reputation, but do not perhaps fully understand. So, how is the rapid advances in technology impacting on modern Australia? 24 hour news, social media, connecting technology and business across boundaries means that we are a more-connected country and world than ever people. People are buying real estate without setting foot in Australia, we are doing global business deals in cyber-board rooms, we are collaborating with people and ideas around the world through technology. Every day we are learning more about each other, opening our minds to possibilities, closing the gaps that had seemed impossible to bridge. In short, technology has, is and will continue to shape our country in new ways - unforseen, unplanned, uncapitalised. Quite simply technology is enabling us to organically connect and enable not only ourselves, but our country. Ways that we probably don't understand yet, and maybe, never will. It's pretty extraordinary when you think about it.
In the tidal wave of technology, people have stopped wishing it would go away and leave us alone. People have stopped worrying about being left behind and gone and done a course, or asked a family member how to send an email. People have decided it is easier paying a bill online and not lining up at the post office. People have decided it is fun to email jokes to our friends. And, heck, why not embrace sharing precious moments with everyone we ever knew! In all this embracing, we have stopped asking the question: was it better before, was life more meaningful, was I happier, was I more connected with real living, breathing people who dropped by and talked about what was really happening behind their picket fences, behind the gloss of the polaroids. And, in that sharing came compassion and the creation of kinder people. Perhaps a time when narcissism was a concept and not a way of life.
In all the technology that rules our life, have we lost a part of our humanness that we will never find again? And, more importantly, have our children and their children lost the ability to even ask these questions. Because, remember, for our children, technology just is. It just is part of their history, their current life and they don't even question whether it will be there in the future - it just will be. And, this makes me sad. Sad for them, sad for us all as in modern Australia, because every day, as we gain that little bit more out of technology, we are also, at the same time, losing a little bit more of our past. It is sailing away from us, and there is no one to even wave it good-bye, because no one is looking.
What can Australia do about it? We can't ignore the reality and humongous benefits gained by living in the age of technology, but neither should we forget the time before; a simpler time where we were forced to connect more in person, to take our time, to stand in line and smile at the little person toddling through the shop. To live more in the moment, without distractions and instant communication. To run your hand across the screen and not expect something to happen, not to ask your parents to cut your sandwiches into landscape pieces.
The shaping of modern Australia and its people will depend not only on how much we embrace the opportunities that technology provides, but how much we look back and remember the time that came before. It will take a collective push to turn, look and see the ship that is sailing and then anchor it not too far away, so that people can go and visit it, descend deep into its hull and listen to the tales of the past. And, when they emerge and go back to land, with them will be a reminder not to be ruled by technology, but to be enabled by it, and not to forget to be a nation of people with a heart; people who care, who can forgive, who can embrace diversity, who are kind and authentic.
I'm a passionate about helping children read frequently - forging a life-long connection with books. In this blog, you will also find helpful, practical advice for parents to help support them in their families reading journey.