Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dad, That's So Lame...

The BBC brought out a strange, but oddly feel-good story recently. It's about a young man named Scott Campbell, who was asked to put down his beloved iPod for a bit, step into another generation's shoes, and get down with an old school Walkman for a week.

I remember back when I got my first cassette Walkman, but by then the technology had advanced enough to make them less monstrous than they had originally been. Still, CD Walkmans had come out just as I was hitting my teens, so I thankfully never had to live through the era of cassette tapes, and making mix tapes for girls I wanted to impress...or, err, not many, in any case. At least not enough to elevate the practice to an art.

In any event, remember taking all of my Christmas money, back when I was in my mid-teens, and plonking it down on a Sony CD Walkman, the best brand on the market. I carried that thing with me everywhere, listening and re-listening to The Canadian Brass as they played some of the great Baroque pieces. Using this I made my acquaintance with the Barenaked Ladies and their first album Gordon. On and on the list went, from MC Hammer to Tom Cochrane to The Little Mermaid. I never had a set taste in music, so an eclectic mix of music that didn't suck (or didn't seem to suck at the time) piled up in the bedroom.

Yet when I think back, even though I was a decade away from the iPod generation, those like me, raised on portable CD players really had the same experience as kids like Scott Campbell have today. That is, we were all raised in the digital realm. And even though I can chuckle a bit as I read Scott's findings, after spending a week with his Walkman, I can't connect to the irony in a way someone ten, even five years older might be able to.

It's funny, that. I lived through the formative years of the home video game market, old enough to have played ColecoVision, Atari, and even on the Commodore 64. I owned every iteration of Nintendo up until the N64, and fancied myself somewhat of a knowledgeable person regarding video games. Computers were the same for me, though I didn't really have access to my first home computer until around 1996. I used other people's computers and the school computers every chance I had until I finally had one at home to play with. But I jumped in a little later than some, hitting my stride in the era of Windows 95, never bothering to really have learned much of Windows 3.1 or DOS, other than what was necessary to reformat and reboot a computer.

Windows 3.1, is like the cassette Walkman. New technology, groundbreaking in a way, but yet awkward for all of that. In both instances there was yet a sense of limited potential, of how these items could be useful, but not in a way that really blew the mind. They were just difficult enough and limited enough in their use that they never passed the threshold of indispensability. But with their later iterations, the iPods, the Windows XPs and OS Xs, that all seemed to change. At some point information and entertainment technology metamorphosed into something else, something for more useful, flexible, beneficial, and at the same time insidious.

And looking at the latest gadgets, fitted with wireless power sources, biofeedback, and too many options to count, phones that are also computers, televisions, radios, and more, I have to wonder what sort of experience my children will have. How will technology mediate their life? Was I one of the last generations to see how life was lived before the digital era changed all of that for us?

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