The internet. I don’t remember how I lived without it.
My children will never know a world where it is not entwined with every aspect of their lives.
They are natives of this world and fluent in it’s language of “servers” and “mods” and “wikis” and “profiles”.
In their few short years on earth they have already amassed an impressive array of keys to the digital universe – usernames, passwords, IDs, logins and codes. Their minds have already developed to recognise that this information needs to be filed in such a way that it is accessible on demand.
I am often amazed that my boys, who routinely forget which day they need to take their swimming gear to school, can remember complicated sequences of letters and numbers required to access a dazzling variety of games, apps and the online education portal for school.
They navigate confidently along the transit lanes of cybersapce in the same way an experienced driver might drive a familiar route from work.
Instinctive. Effortless. Almost without conscious thought at all.
“So what?” you could argue, “we’re all online these days”.
And you’d have a point. Like me I’m sure you can’t remember a the last time you used the Yellow Pages to look up a number or find a restaurant. I always feel a little sorry for them when I see one these days. They’re like that one guy at the party who doesn’t know when it’s time to go home.
But there IS a difference between those who are (like myself) over 30, and those who are members of the “native” generation.
This revelation occurred recently during the during the parental endurance event commonly known as…
“Helping your kid do an assignment on a topic you know nothing about and are not remotely interested in”.
JACK: “Mum, I’ve got an an assignment!”
ME: “Great darling what’s it about?” *commence enthusiastic grimmace*
JACK: “It’s about Italy. We have to find out basically everything about it. Like what language they speak, what type of money they use and what sort of food they eat. And we also have to find a special festival or cultural event that is unique to that country.”
ME: “Wow that’s… great. Sounds like fun”
*Actually this is not too bad. I do know something about Italy and it is a fairly interesting topic, as assignment topics go*
JACK: “Yeah. ”
*10 year old boys can be pretty low key when it comes to expressing excitement*
ME: “Awesome – we should get started. So when is this due mate?”
*enthusiastic grimmace is turning into genuine enthusiasm*
JACK: “Uhhmmmm … Friday.”
ME: ….. *small pause while I process the fact that it is currently Wednesday*
JACK: “And we CAN’T use Wikipedia. At all. Mrs.H says Wikipedia is just people saying whatever they like and they might not be right. She says it’s like cheating. And she says she’ll KNOW if we’ve used it. She’ll just know”
*Jack is looking distinctly uneasy at this thought*
ME: “Alright don’t stress mate. We won’t use Wikipedia – there are heaps of other sites we can look at so don’t worry about it”
*I’m a bit uneasy myself by this stage. I’m all for academic integrity but Mrs.H is coming across like she’s a Field Commandant in the Wiki-Gestapo*
JACK: “Hey Mum, how did you used to do your assignments when you were at school? I mean, you didn’t even HAVE Wikipedia did you?”
ME: “No we didn’t. We had to use the encyclopedia,” and anticipating his next question continued, “which was a set of books that had information about all sorts of things in it. There was one volume for each letter”.
JACK: “Did you have to go to the library to get them?”
ME: “Yes but lots of people had their own set at home…”
I am suddenly transported back to the “good lounge” of my childhood where the full set of Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia takes pride of place on the bookshelf. I remembered my Mum had signed up for a deal through our local Coles where you you bought a volume each week for 26 weeks. And the first volume was free!
I hit google to find a picture so he can see what I’m talkig about…
JACK: “Was that really it’s name… Funk and *snigger* Wagnalls?”
ME: “Yes it was!”
*For some reason this name also used to crack me up as a child. The apple does not fall far from the tree”
JACK: “But… how did that work Mum? How could they get all the information into those books. They can’t possibly be big enough! Just think about all the information there is on the internet – that’s definitely not going to fit into those books!”
And here we hit our first major difference between the generations.
When I was Jack’s age the encyclopedia was the ultimate source of truth. Those big, heavy books carried the weight of authority in their pages and I had faith that whatever information I was seeking I would find within it’s covers.
Jack on the other hand already knows that the world simply has too much “info” for it to be confined into a mere 26 volumes. He can’t conceive of a world where his ability to find information would be limited like this.
ME: “Well I guess there wasn’t as much information back then. We just kind of had to use what we had.”
JACK: “And what about when things change? Like when they discover something new in science or soemthing? On the internet you can just add a new page or delete the old information and replace it with new stuff. You couldn’t just go around printing a whole new set of these every time something changes ”
There’s the second difference.
Again Jack has an expectation that information is dynamic, that it “keeps up” in real time with the world around it. He calculates it’s value based on how “fresh” it is.
It is very clear to him that the static informtion in these books is “dead” information – it can’t move, it can’t adapt and it can’t keep up. Therefore it’s value is limited.
ME: “Well no they did re-print new editions but they might ony do that every couple of years”
JACK: “Wow. It must have been hard doing asignments back in the old days”
ME: Well when I got to High-school we had the encyclopedia on CD-ROM which allowed it to store more information than the books. They realeased a new one every year too so it was a bit more up to date.
I hit google again to show him good ol’ Microsoft Encarta.<
I remember the fanfare when the school got these – we were really on the cutting edge of education that day…
JACK: “Nice graphics!” and then, “What does the ROM stand for in CD-ROM? I know what a CD is – you’ve got your old music on them. But what about the ROM bit?”
I used to know this. This used to be important information. But not anymore it seems.
ME: “OK that’s enough procastinating about ‘in the olden days when Mummy was a little girl’.”
“You’ve got an assignment due in 2 days mister so let’s see if the internet can make this process slightly less painful for both of us…”