|Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?|
…and the counterpoint: Ignore The Bullshit: iPhones Are Not Destroying Teenagers
Is this another panicky article by The Atlantic about how digital technology is killing us? (Remember is Google Making Us Stupid? I do.)
The general complaint is that youngsters tangled up in emerging technology won’t have the same beatific childhood we have all nostalgically invented for ourselves.
Nostalgia is a dangerous thing at the best of times. It’s a fictional invention by its very nature. Our own childhoods weren’t magical bliss. Depending on how old you are, that magical family trip you took when you were a child was done in a gas guzzling, emissions belching nightmare of a 1970s car. We’re all suffering from the results of your magical childhood road trips. This isn’t to say that those trips weren’t wonderful, but they are hardly the placed on a pedestal, this is the way we should all be all the time ideas that nostalgia amplifies them into.
The distance between generations is very similar socially to the distance between races and cultures. Especially with our rapidly evolving technology, one generation to the next might have significantly different lived experiences. Just as racists like to emphasize differences in culture and patriots like to wave their flags over the perceived superiority of their countries, ageists like to belittle generations other than their own for their differences. Sometimes that ageism turns into something worse.
This week in Canada the elementary teachers union in Ontario created a debate about the country’s first prime minister, John A. MacDonald. This discussion squared off people who tend toward staunch nationalism with people who tend toward staunch political correctness. It reminded me of a story one of my history professors once told us about his dad.
In his late eighties, this professor’s father thought it would be nice to begin attending university classes. The prof was delighted at the idea and encouraged his dad to give it a go. In the first semester this elderly gentleman found himself in a class full of twenty somethings learning about the early Twentieth Century – something he had first hand knowledge of. As they learned about suffrage (both gender and race) the ever-so-proud of their place in history young people in this class began throwing around words like sexist and racist. The prof’s dad was very upset by this. He tried to explain that the vast majority of people at the time weren’t consciously racist or sexist, but were becoming aware of how things had to change.
This is a huge realization that I think most people seem incapable of. Our place in history is perhaps our largest single prejudice. Those twenty-somethings in university in the 1990s were throwing around these judgments from a temporal place of perceived superiority, but I wonder how history will represent them. Can you sit there wearing clothes made in sweatshops and burn fossil fuel to get to class and really feel that superior? Can you live in a country that only exists as a result of aggressive colonialism and cast disparagements at the people who did the dirty work of creating it? They could.
This feels like a people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones kind of thing, but it’s human nature to grasp for and exploit any perceived superiority it can; political correctness is founded on the idea. Humility and honesty are hard work.
When I was doing teacher’s college I came across a grade 8 history text book that had a drawing of the day of Confederation on Parliament Hill in 1867. In this picture that I’d describe as more propaganda than anything else, were black, Asian and native people all walking hand in hand with white Canadians and all dressed in appropriate Victorian dress. None of the women and most of the men in that picture couldn’t vote and had nothing to do with Confederation. If they weren’t dying from smallpox they might have been building a railway or were recent refugees from the underground railroad who were now experiencing the quieter racism of British North America. If you want a final victory for colonialism this was it – a children’s history text that had rewritten history to make Canada look like something it never was (but would eventually evolve towards). Burning books and rewriting history has a long and dark history.
Canada has a messy history. Less messy than The States, but messy still. Revising it isn’t a way of fixing that, it’s a way of hiding it, which isn’t cool. Any schools named J.A.M. should remain so – talking about history remembering the context of the time is why the study of history is so challenging, but it’s something we should do or we’re doomed to repeat it; I suspect we are anyway if we’re not willing to ask the hard questions and fix the social inadequacies we currently exploit. It’s a good thing people in the early Twentieth Century were willing to fight for equality of access to democracy, because I’m not sure people today would.
There is little difference between George Washington owning slaves and a 21st Century North American buying sweatshop clothes from Walmart. In fact, I’d say the only difference is that Washington did his own slave owning rather than farming the work out to multinationals. The modern ‘First World‘ has never paid for what things actually cost. What was once nationalist colonialism has simply been hidden in Globalized economics.
Judging newer generations who are struggling with technology change just as we all are is equally prejudicial. As I said above, other than teens being able to publish their self involved drama, I’m not sure much has changed other than the ability to publish it, so panicking over the end of civilization because of smartphones seems a bit bombastic, but I’m sure it’ll sell magazines.