Mind The Gap #2

Mind the Gap sign on the edge of a London Underground Tube station's platform

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.

Yellow pages - yep he's THAT guy.

Yellow pages – yep he’s THAT guy.

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…

When I was googling around for an image I couldn't believe it when I actually found one of this very offer...

When I was googling around for an image I couldn’t believe it when I actually found one of this very offer…

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.

Cutting edge babay!

Cutting edge baby!


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?”

ME: Ahhhhh….

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…”

24 comments on “Mind The Gap #2

  1. Marti says:

    This conversation is so familiar! We can dwell in this world but haven’t been raised on it like they have. Fascinating and interesting! Absolutely a trip down memory lane for me.

    Thanks for your kind comments about my blog and it is uncanny the similarities in our children… there’s a lot to be said about birth place and personality I believe! We actually called halt after number 3 but the universe had other ideas!

    My eldest told me he prayed for another baby (catholic school be damned!) so instead we’ve called a halt at number 4 and banned church attendance 😜

  2. It’s weird to think that kids these days will always have internet, and decent internet, not the crappy one page geosites that I used to sometimes look at the only friends house who had the worlds loudest dial-up modem!

    I must admit though, I do still use printed Yellow Pages, well the small local one for our area. It’s just much quicker than on the net because there are always so many bloody options that just aren’t actually in our area and I don’t have time to scroll through them all. Plus my husband is not very quick on the phone or computer so for him the printed YP is much easier and quicker when looking up local stuff. Trying to help him book a hotel online for his friends bucks night this weekend was excruciating!

  3. Thea says:

    Great conversation! I often wonder how we coped without the internet and how much I would have loved it as a child. I always had too many unanswered questions.

  4. It’s crazy isn’t it, the huge difference in such a small space of time. My son is 3 and I watch him playing on our photos, tablets or ipod and he’s so adept at puzzle games and the learning tools already. Mobile phones didn’t really exist when I was a kid – my mums first one was the size of a brick and now we have ones no bigger than a cassette tape with the whole internet at your fingertips. The mind boggles at how very different his learning experience will be.

  5. robomum says:

    I enjoyed reading this post! You took me right back to high school and our own set of World Books, bought by my parents from a door to door salesman.
    How times have changed.
    I see kids whip out pads and phones and computers every day but the one thing I worry about is how they process this information, how they work out what’s relevant and whether they will retain the knowledge.
    Hope you got your assignment finished!

  6. Declutterbug says:

    I loved reading this. We do still use our yellow pages, but as booster seats for the toddlers. I sit and look things up on the iPad all the time and the kids are growing up seeing me do it. We don’t have to commit anything to memory at all any more which is slightly worrying. Even the passwords… They just email a password change link to you if you forget

    • Rachel says:

      I hear you! Toddlers are such clever little monkeys and it doesn’t take long for them to master the “swipe” motion used on tablets and iPhones. In fact when you think about it, it’s almost ergonomically designed to suit their chubby little fingers! I wonder if Steve Jobs planned it that way to ensure a future generation of Apple Customers? πŸ˜‰

  7. Ahhh Worldbook encyclopaedia! You’re making me all nostalgic. Those shiny gold spines that cracked….
    I love that your Jack is so focused on information as being up-to-date or not these days though. It’s a critical point for the publishing industry too, and something that’s turned so many of those niche industries on their heads, particularly where they’re not catching on to the importance of currency at a rapid pace (like legal publishing, where i worked for a number of years). E-publishing – the way of the future!! Currency is king.

    • Rachel says:

      Yeah I was freaked out how quickly he made the assessment on the value of the information in the encyclopedias. Especially the fact that he also made the connection about how uneconomical it was to try and capture dynamic information in a static medium. That aligns with your point about the publishing industry. Even good old Encarta ended up being ditched by Microsoft in 2009, when they finally accepted the fact that even releasing a new CD-ROM every year was just not frequent enough to keep upwith the “freshness” demanded by the market.

  8. We used to borrow the neighbours encyclopaedia. I remember when I got into year 7 and did my whole essay on Egypt using the world encyclopaedia as my sole source I was marked down big time.
    My. How times have changed. Visiting from fybf.

    • Rachel says:

      God, Egypt was always a fool-proof assgnment topic for teachers wasn’ it! Bit harsh to be making you down on that at such a young age I reckon! I guess she was one of those “toughen you up for highschool” Grade 7 teachers πŸ™‚

  9. kirstyrussell75 says:

    I remember consulting the World Book Encyclopaedia at my local library when it was assignment time – it was THE bible when it came to knowledge. Sad, but true!

  10. Shari says:

    Oh I love this conversation … and the memories and the sniggering of Funk and Wagnells – our apple trees must have been in the same orchard πŸ˜‰

    • Rachel says:

      Hi Shari! Yes I don’t know what it is that makes it so funny to kids. Could it be because it sounds sightly “rude”. Either way it’s nice to meet a neighbour form the orchard πŸ™‚

  11. We didn’t have funk and wagnalls cause according to my dad, they were nor ‘real’ encyclopaedias. It was britannica or nothing! Although I do remember getting encarta, and trying to work out how to use it!
    It’s amazing the questions he had; our kids really are growing up in such a different time

    • Rachel says:

      Yeah the old F&W were a little “light-on” in the ecyclopedia world. Britannica was definitely a heavy wieght, but a considerable investment in those days. Also probably not available on a special weekly purchase plan from Coles lol!

  12. What a great post, I remember having to trawl through books to get info, go the the library. I’d like to think I might try and do that with my kids when they need info, even just once!! Then we can use the net. We had Encarta – classic too! Em

    • Rachel says:

      Oh me too! Especially in my first misguided 2.5 years at uni when I did law. Hours and hours spent trawling the case law! I’m sure it’s all online now. But you’re right – they should know how to research the old fashioned way. We should go to the library more often in general so this could be a good opportunity to make a pleasure out of a necessity.

  13. Grace says:

    Love these conversations!
    My parents still have their set of encyclopaedias at home. Just such beautiful leather bounded books.
    I hope they never get rid of libraries. I could just live in them.

    • Rachel says:

      Agreed! They are satisfying on so many levels – the “book” smell and the rustle of pages. I have made a pact with myself to take my boys more often – they deserve to have those memories too.

  14. SarahMac says:

    Oh the old Encarta discs! Oh I also had those weird World Books. What were they called? Will have to Google…

  15. It is amazing how much things have changed isn’t it. We had our own set of encyclopaedia’s and they were great and the one’s in the library they always had a funny smell…thanks for flashing πŸ™‚

    • Rachel says:

      Hi! Yes the library ones always did have a funny smell – I’d forgotten about that! And thanks for having me on Flash Blog Friday πŸ™‚

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