Stranger in a Strange Land

By Michael

The girls live in a different world, so I have to get my passport updated every year or so.

This isn’t a curmudgeonly diatribe about the new generation and who-needs-it technology and mocking Twitter or FaceBook. I waste hours on FaceBook every day, by gum, and I’m as hooked on it as any young whipper-snapper .

Instead, I’ve been thinking about how my communication with the girls, how their brain development and their perspectives are all changed by this technology. Schools haven’t caught up and won’t, no matter how many computer labs they set up, because the very culture of school management is still agrarian in nature. As parents, we can be more nimble, making the adjustments as we recognize the differences.

Understand that I’m not exactly a Luddite. I was one of the first people in the United States to have a personal computer, before anyone was calling them personal computers. I was on the internet before there was AOL or Yahoo.

Still, my brain was hardwired when computers were those things with all the flashing lights in a science fiction movie and nobody outside of Armonk had any idea how to use them. I learned to program with punch cards, which most people alive today have never used or, probably, know existed.

The girls, on the other hand, were playing computer games at two or three and IMing friends around the country by the time they were seven or eight. They have no memory of a world without the internet, which means their perceptions of time and space are vastly different from mine.

Their concept of space and, more specifically, distance, includes fewer limitations. They probably don’t remember needing to go to the library for information, which means they don’t have a sense that information is something that is physically within or beyond reach. They might enjoy shopping—a trait bestowed by that second X chromosome—but they don’t have to be in a store to do their comparison shopping. And the store where they shop doesn’t have to be local.

They communicate by typing at least as often as they do by voice. The need, value and nuance of face-to-face conversation are different in their minds than in mine. One daughter is more likely to email than the other, one more likely to send a text, which means the two of them probably have some differences of perception regarding the roles and value of each.

What they talk about is different, as well, along with the way view “conversation.” Whether it’s simple texting or Twitter or FaceBook or the terribly archaic instant messaging, they might send 300-400 people the news that they are looking forward to the weekend, or bummed about the weather, or hoping for a Cubs pennant. (Insert appropriate Cubs joke here.)

I’m a very, very, very important person. My every move and thought can change the world; nay, the entire universe. But it would never occur to me to tell 300 people, “I think I’ll have Swiss instead of cheddar on my burger today.”

These online conversations aren’t really conversations, as most of us parental units would recognize them. FaceBook is a billion yodels with no echo, so most posts draw little or no response. I always think of a conversation as involving more than one person. Otherwise, I’m talking to myself, which is viewed as unbalanced and bad, even though it does earn me a seat by myself on the subway.

The girls don’t see this one-way posting of notes as a negative, though. Friends will read what’s going on, they can keep in touch with 500 friends at once and if nobody replies, no big deal.

The list goes on. Their sense of access, the number of insights they gain without leaving their computer—or phone—their perception of trustworthy and questionable sources of information, their tolerance for postponed gratification……so many things are different from the way we developed.

This isn’t about good or evil, right or wrong or even about what makes for good parenting. It is about communication, however—both the sending and receiving of messages. Much that is fundamental to the process has changed from my childhood to theirs, which means the girls truly live in a different world.

To visit that world, I need to update my passport at least once a year. Otherwise, it’s very easy for something to get lost in the translation.

Michael Rosenbaum is 5 Minutes for Parenting’s first dadblogger. He is a business consultant, playwright and author of Your Name Here: Guide to Life.

Michael blogs on life issues at Your Name Here Guide to Life and manages the Adult Conversation discussion group on Linked-In.

6 Responses to Stranger in a Strange Land
  1. Beck
    December 17, 2009 | 10:01 am

    WE live in a remote, northern sort of place and so a LOT of my Girl’s friends don’t have computers in the home – or if they do, they have dial-up and aren’t allowed to use it. So my Girl plays Webkinz but so far that’s the extent of it. We’ve wondered a bit about technology and her life – will we get her a cell phone, when will she be allowed to use the internet unsupervised? At 10, we still don’t have answers.

  2. Kelly
    December 17, 2009 | 1:03 pm

    We are just a few years behind you, but I can already relate to this. Technology is just innate to our kids, and they have a different way of looking at life (and communication) because of it.

    Fascinating post, Michael.

  3. MichaelR
    December 17, 2009 | 3:27 pm

    I don’t have an answer, either, but I know my life has changed when my wife or daughters are upstairs and I e-mail them a question instead of getting off my, um, keyboard, and seeing them in person. (Of course, we do the same thing at work when the recpient is in the next cubicle, so why should family be different?)


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