Title: Get Your Brain Out of Your Pocket!
Author: Clea Saal
Born: March 20,2021
Genre: Essays, technology,non-fiction
Page count: 136 pages
Price: $10.95 (paperback) $8.75 (Kindle eBook)
Also available in Spanish!
1. Tales of the Bilingual Generation
Tales of the Bilingual Generation, that was the title I was originally considering for this book. I changed it because, while appropriate, it needed too much of an explanation. So what do I mean by tales of the bilingual generation, and why the singular? Well, because this book is about my generation, which in a way can be described as the only bilingual generation that ever was, and ever will be. ‘What do you mean by that, and who makes up this semi-mythical bilingual generation (and where can I get some of whatever it is that you’ve been smoking)?’ I hear you ask.
What I mean by the bilingual generation is those of us born between 1965, and 1975. In other words, it is most of what is usually described as gen-x, but it does exclude the tail end of that lot, as that generation is assumed to encompass those born between 1965 and 1980. As to why I refer to this cohort as the bilingual generation, and set them apart as unique, that is because it is the cohort that –for the most part– got introduced to computers in their mid to late teens, but who went to school before those computers became ubiquitous. As to why I’m drawing the line at that particular point, that is based on the fact that Windows 3.0, the first version of that operating system to feature a graphical interface, was introduced in 1990, when those born in 1975 were fifteen years old (and yes, I know there were Macs with a point and click interface since 1984, but they were few and far between). Anyway, the point is that we are the ones who are basically stuck in the middle. We are the children of the boomers (or worse) who can’t handle the technology at all, and the parents of the gen-z kids, who can’t seem to live without it. Computers have always been part of our professional lives, but we grew up mostly without them, and that means we are equally at home in the digital and non-digital worlds.
Okay, so maybe some of us haven’t kept up with the pace of change as well as we should have, while others are more reluctant to become over reliant on the technology, and yet others fret about what it all means. We get it, we accept it, but we also question it to a degree that the younger generation, for the most part, does not. By the same token we grew up with a technology that was harder to master than smartphones, smart houses, and smart speakers. Drop one of those digital natives who love to make fun of their elders in front of an old PC (and I do mean old), and watch them run crying home to mommy when confronted with the command line interface of MS-DOS (where you had to enter the date and time by hand each time you booted the blasted thing), two five inch floppy disk drives (hard drives, which were at most 10 MB, were optional), and without even a mouse or a menu there to guide them… oh, and let’s not forget the astonishing beauty of those green, monochromatic screens. So maybe I don’t remember how everything worked back in those days, but that was the first computer we had at my place. No, it wasn’t my computer, are you crazy? Those things were expensive as heck! In fact it was officially my father’s (a somewhat extravagant birthday present from my mom back in 1985 or 86), but he struggled with it for as long as we had it, and I suspect that that less than auspicious introduction did contribute to his reluctance to embrace the technology once it became easier to handle, a reluctance that continues to this day.
In other words, our problem is not so much that we don’t understand how the technology works –though we will probably never be as comfortable with it as the digital natives, who can’t imagine life without it– it is that we are far more aware of what the trade offs happen to be. You can’t miss a freedom you have never known, and that is precisely why those digital natives seem, in our eyes, to have such a huge blind spot in that regard.
Personally I have almost no presence on social media and social networks, though I do realize that that is a privilege most don’t have. For instance, some of my friends –you know, those people you have actually known for years out in the real world, not the ones you make with a click in social networks, who tend to be people you have never actually laid eyes on– need Facebook to stay in touch with their kids’ teachers and school districts, to say nothing of the fact that social media is a must at a professional level, meaning that for most opting out is not really an option… not to mention that employers routinely demand access to your posts and profiles as part of the interview process, and not having any can come across as suspicious.
To me that sounds almost dystopian, and for me that rejection of social networks does translate into a number of missed opportunities; for kids opting out is unthinkable. For them it is just the way of the world. It’s where their friends are, where they hang out, and opting out means being effectively cut out of their entire social circles, so they accept it, they embrace it. By the time they are eight most kids are already begging for a phone of their own (and roughly half of them have one by the time they hit the double digits). Besides, they have never known a world without it… and most of them are oblivious to the price they are bound to pay. True, there is a growing awareness in some circles, there is even some push back, with some parents going so far as to refuse to post baby pictures and the like to ensure that, when the time comes, their kids will have a clean slate to create their own online personas without having to worry that those candid photos will wind up in the hands of someone conducting a job interview, where they may lose out on some employment opportunity to someone who looked cuter on the potty at the ripe old age of two.
Anyway, remember the friend with kids I mentioned above, or rather one of them? Well, her kids are growing up, and growing up fast. In fact her eldest just turned eighteen, and I remember a conversation we had when she was two or three, after one of those tragic stories about a child who had gone missing, and had been found dead a couple of days later. My friend was understandably shaken. No, she was more than shaken, she was terrified. I remember how I asked her one question: if there were some sort of tracking device you could have implanted under your daughter’s skin so that should something ever happen to her, she could be located instantly, but the trade off is that the implant is not removable, and the government will be able to keep tabs on her every move for as long as she lives, would you get it for her? She wasn’t sure. She hesitated. It was not an easy choice, not even as a thought experiment.
Of course, those implants remain firmly in the realm of science fiction, at least for the time being, though I don’t doubt that there is someone somewhere working on the technology, but the choice is one we will someday have to make. No, it is one we have already made, and we made it without even realizing it. It just crept in on us, albeit in a different form. It is in our pockets in the form of our smartphones, and I seriously doubt those are going to be going anywhere any time soon. They have become too integral a part of our everyday life for that to even be an option, but that doesn’t mean that there is no room for us to question their presence, because the price? The price remains unknown, but it is likely to be higher than we think.
Technology has changed the way in which we conduct our lives at a fundamental level, it has transformed the ways in which we interact with each other, and that technology is here to stay, there is no way around it. That is not an earth-shattering revelation, nowhere near it. In fact I doubt anyone will see that as a revelation at all, and I’m not sure how relevant my musings on the subject are going to be, or if anyone will even bother to read them, but this is something I’ve been itching to get off my chest for a while, so here goes nothing.
I have a voice, watch it get drowned by millions of others.