Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Technology, The Future, And My Children

As someone who makes a living writing about technology and innovation, I probably spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about the future. While I'm not a gadget obsessive like so many in Silicon Valley, I do embrace my inner geek and am always glad to see some of that rubbing off on my kids.

This summer, Liam has been attending several sessions of what is popularly known as "Sarah's Science Camp." (Officially: "This Land Is Our Land.") As is typical, Liam complains on a daily basis about having to go. But it's been clear over the weeks that he's tremendously excited about the projects they get to build. Each week has a theme (circuits, gravity, etc.). In the past few weeks, Liam has built a flashlight, a catapult, a metal detector, and all sorts of cool, nerdy stuff. I think it's so important because the way our society is evolving, we're so much more disconnected from the way things are made, from our cars to our food. I wrote about that theme and the joy of creating after we visited the Maker Faire.

I had less of that as a kid, though I did go to computer camp the summer after eighth grade. Which may tell you all you need to know about what my adolescence was like. Rather than hanging out at the pool and finding a girl to "go steady" with, I was learning how to plot a pixel and save it to a floppy disk.

It's staggering to look back at the immense technological change I've experienced since that computer camp. When I was unpacking some stuff I brought home from the office today, I pulled out a plastic baggy full of diskettes:

Liam looked at them and asked, "Daddy, what are those?" I explained, but he will never, ever use one. That got me thinking of all the other things he'll never probably use when he's an adult. Desktop PCs will probably look ridiculous. And wires? Very possibly our kids will laugh that we had this spaghetti-like mess of wires under out desks.

At the same time, our family has been pretty conservative about a lot of technology. We don't have a video game player, though Liam has recently discovered the existence of the Wii and is dying to get one. So far, the answer is no, but that'll change at some point.

I think this is one of the things that I appreciate, though, about being a parent. How these little moments cause me to re-experience parts of my own childhood, how seeing things through their eyes forces me to see the present in a different light, and how thinking about them growing up leaves me a little envious about the world they'll inherit.

I guess that means that on the whole, I'm optimistic rather than pessimistic about the future we'll leave them.

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