INSITEVIEW- - tom shugart's weblog

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Silence of Gadgets

An interesting string of comments to Yule Heibel's post of April 18 in which, among other things, she reflects on the way things are different for today's youth with respect to the way they may be processing the psycho-social-sexual dynamics of the offline world while living in a now-ubiquitous virtual one.

Commenting on others' comments, Yule says,

"I don't know, maybe teens and 20-somethings generally walk around, in between rushes of pure physicality, in a hormone-induced stupor akin to a batch of bad dope. I know I did, and it took me a while to really get a hold of my body: it was the roller-coaster thing -- "I'm alive!! I'm dead... I'm alive!! I'm dead...." But at the same time, I didn't have to deal with all the GADGETS and their mediation of my life. I could get stoned or drunk, I could go dancing, I could listen to music, read, or make art, or write, but I couldn't plug my brain into a computer. I didn't have a relationship with an online community or an anime or an avatar. I don't know how that really changes things. . . . . . . . . Things have changed for kids, in relation to the stuff we put in front of them and subsequently in terms of their peer experiences, and it's really not completely the same for them, today, as it was for us, back then."

Last week we were celebrating my youngest son's twenty-fifth birthday at an Italian joint over pasta and martinis, and something in the conversation--I don't remember what--probably Iraq--inspired Jon to say,

"I have to admit, most of my peers don't seem to give much of a crap about anything, or if they do, they don't do much to express it."

His older brother agreed: "They don't seem to have the passion you guys had. Why is that?"

Very perceptive of the lads. I reminded them that I've noticed, over their teen years and beyond, that whenever I saw them get together socially with their peers, or discussing plans for it, the main event of the evening was usually watching a flick on the VCR or DVD, followed by participation in video games and/or fantasy sports leagues on the Internet.

I contrasted that with the social get-togethers in my youth:

"There was no renting a flick, playing a video game, and certainly no Internet. You TALKED. If you were sufficiently lubricated, you might join in song. Or someone might get up the nerve to whip out a notebook and interject, "here's a poem I've been working on. Tell me what you think." Or someone might grab a book off the shelf and read aloud from something."

All those activities--the talking, the singing, the reading aloud--the stuff I don't see happening much in the social life of my son's peers--are most likely healthy contributors to building the kind of passion whose lack is being noticed by my sons, and whose presence helped lead their counterparts of an earlier world into not just vociferous protest, but wild exuberance over rock stars and folk musicians, and, yes, even poets (see my previous post).

I'm not trying to ascribe any superiority here to one generation over another. Just speculating, along with Yule, on what the effects might be of a world that's inexorably

I'm reminded of something I once posted to my blog:

"I wonder--had the internet been available in the '60's--would the power of the protest have been deflected by people taking out their outrage in a flurry of blogposts? Would they have had the illusion--and only the illusion--of empowering themselves and changing history through the act of cross-blogging, when, in actuality, the only force that could have changed anything was the years of dogged determination, blood in the streets and campuses, defections to Canada, banishments from the family, willingness to spend time in the slammer?"


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