Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Technological Determinism: or the kids are alright

I just finished reading an article in a recent Maclean’s Magazine mocking the new Dodge Caravan. It smugly says, ‘with this new car long family trips are a blur, you don’t even have to talk to your kids anymore’. Now my first knee jerk response is that the article was fairly well written and I actually agree with its main point, technology = bad as it can destroy family dynamics and the need for social contact. It also apparently means you don’t need to build ‘puts-hair-on-your-chest’ character by staring out the window for hours on end.

I personally experienced many family trips as a child. My younger summers were spent with my two brothers and parents in a Pontiac Firebird (seats 5) with no air conditioning. We trekked all over BC in that car and it doesn’t take much to bring back memories of my dad saying “If you don’t stop punching your brother I’ll turn this car around…” Personally I blame all of my misbehaving on the heat… The heat issue was fixed in my teen years however as we got an air conditioned mini-van. This also meant that being the oldest I often got the entire back three person seat to myself. I was bigger, so I needed more room to stretch my legs. Still, the trips were long and although portable gaming devices were around, they could only hold my interest for so long, so I either read books, or more commonly just looked out the window. A shrink might say you could blame my over active imagination on staring out a car window for hours on end imagining lots of fun creatures, or more often a cool ninja running beside the car doing tricks and fighting bad guys to keep me entertained.

So, as you can see, my first response to the ad campaign was the same as the writers: ‘character building’ uncomforts as child are funny as an adult and in many ways define who we are. Clearly then by buying this car we are robbing our children of the ability to be creative. The second these words came out of my mouth a shiver was sent down my spine: have I really become I conservative technological determinist? Does that mean I can no longer shout proudly “Damn the man, say the empire!” I want a progressive future full of forward thinking, as long as my children, if I have them, can grow up the same way as I did. Is this my equivalent to walking to school in the snow uphill both ways? On a side note, I actually did walk to school almost every day, although because I grew up in Victoria it didn’t snow much.

Thankfully, upon second thought, I can redeem my liberal soul.

I think often we get so caught up trying to make the world a better place that we sometimes forget to remember the consequences of our actions. This can be a bad thing at times because the past gives us the knowledge to reframe the future. Change however, like death and taxes, is an inevitable feature of life, and it cannot be stopped but it should also not be feared. Everyone is a product of their past, the good, the bad, and the learned mistakes define who we are. Because of this, it is frightening to think of a changed past as that would radically change our identity. Generally, I think most people like who they are, and want their children to grow up to be similar to themselves. At the very least they hope that their kids hold similar core values to be true, and want for them to have the same opportunities to succeed and grow.

In reality however, the next generation will inherit a drastically different world. They will have different toys, different friends, and face different challenges. Hopefully the world will be cleaner. Hopefully there will be less war, and poverty. A person will be a person regardless of race, religion, skin colour, or even affinity for a particular sports team. Because of this, because of everything we are now doing, children will not grow up in the same environment as we did. It cannot be helped, but that is not a bad thing. It is progress, and it is what makes us human.

I have one last thought before I close for today. Change for the sake of change can be just as bad as fearing change. Progress needs to be shaped, it needs to be molded, and its foundations need to be sculpted from the past, both the good and the bad remembered. As a parent / future parent of children and ideas don’t be afraid to turn off the TV, the video games, and your Ipod, and talk. The kids are alright, and will continue to be alright, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need some help, guidance, and love to become something everyone can be proud of.

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