We've heard the cliché about the baby born with the proverbial silver spoon in its mouth. The spoon has now been replaced with a tiny, cell phone-turned-portable-computer, the iPod, and its latest sibling, the iPad. The ramifications of their appearance, and the babies born along with them, are staggering.
More than any other time in history, technology is advancing faster than our ability to assimilate it. As device after device appears on the scene, each a generational leapfrog over the one just before it, following Moore's Law relentlessly leads us down an ever expanding rabbit hole threatening to swallow our very humanity.
Digital Generation Gaps
Children of today look biologically much as they did years ago, at least in their birthday suits. But something very subtle and powerful is going on in these new tots. The rapid advances in technology to which they are exposed from an early age is affecting them to the core, and the net result is a larger generation gap than ever.
Like compound interest, or a snowball rolling down a hill, the technological advances we are seeing are now coming at us with such speed that they effectively create smaller and smaller generations, or even sub generations, of humans.
I will never forget the day I taught an introduction to computers course, and a 90-year old man was attending. I explained to the group that if a computer was slow, it might take up to "a whole second" for a menu to open after clicking on it. The 90-year old man looked at me, mouth open, dumbfounded.
"A second!" He replied, shocked. It was then that I realized what a second must be to a 90-year old. I understood in that moment just how fundamentally different my outlook and expectations on technology are, compared to older generations.
Another technological passing of the baton occurred for me the day a younger student showed me something on his computer, and zipped around the screen 5x faster than I ever could. It was then that I realized that he and I were literally part of a different generation, with a digital divide between us. We had a digital generation gap, even though we were actually only a few "human years" apart.
Moore's Law and Digital Generations
This leads us to ponder whether we need to redefine human generations in terms of technology, instead of biology. While 10 years is a fraction of a true human generation, a ten year difference between people growing up with different exposures to technology effectively creates a whole new sub generation. How different were children growing up in 1980, without computers, compared to those in the 90's, with the explosion of the internet and the digital revolution?
Perhaps using Moore's Law as a loose template, we can define a new human "digital generation" in terms of single decades rather than the traditional 25-30 years.
All of this leads us to that talented group of innocents that inherits this genius, those toddlers standing on the shoulders of great technology. These youngsters, by virtue of their position atop our technology, have a view that many of us older folk simply don't have. What can they see that we cannot?
What is the effect of having instant communication with almost anyone on earth, available in the palm of the hand, from toddlerhood? What type of mindset is created when one expects to be able to accomplish or experience anything, from business transactions to romantic relations to education, in fractions of a second? How does such ready access to power shape the human mind?
While we may not know the answers to those questions yet, we are about to find out. Introducing the iPad Generation.
The iPad Generation
While Gen Y is defined roughly as the children born between 1980 and the early oughts, the arrival on the scene of the iPod, and now the iPad, herald what will surely be termed the iPad Generation in years to come. The number one characteristic of the iPad Generation is it is absolutely fearless when it comes to technology.
Even more than its closely-related sibling Gen Y, the iPad Generation literally sees technology as an extension of their own bodies. While even Gen Y might balk at having a portable computer embedded into their craniums, the iPad Generation would see this as cool and want to know when they can have it done!
While Gen X and Gen Y were busy building the technology infrastructure that the iPad Generation now takes for granted, the iPad Generation sees it as the status quo, a platform from which to jump. While this has and always will be the case from one generation to the next, the sheer monumental technological advances that have occurred in such a relatively short period of time have accelerated this process exponentially.
What of the children of today immersed in this ever-expanding, soul-less technology field that encompasses them morning, noon and night? When entire generations are raised by technology that replaces their primary caregivers, one can only wonder how the precious imparting of wisdom, intuition, and heart-based understanding can take place.
Computers may have limitless potential for computational power, but they lack compassion power. They are soul-less Tin-men whose makers somehow forgot to include a heart--because they were never intended to be surrogate parents.
Can we see the effects of this transference of parenthood from flesh to silicon in today's students? What of writing poetry, novels, music, creating art, and other expressions of the human soul? If, given the choice, would we want our children to be raised by super geniuses with no heart, or by fallible biological entities whose Compassion Quotient exceeds their IQ? We do have a choice.
iThink, Therefore iPonder
All of this rushing about, yet have we ever stopped to really ponder the simplest questions: what is the purpose of accomplishing everything in a nanosecond? Is the world a better place because we soon will have computing power that rivals that of the human brain, and ultimately unlimited computational power available via the 'net, or even direct downloads into our brains á la The Matrix?
Perhaps a better question is not how powerful will computers become, but what will we become when exposed to unlimited knowledge or computational power? Will our capacity for kindness, compassion, wisdom, intuition, and interpersonal skills change for the better? Or are we on the fast-track to devolution, becoming a giant brain with no heart?
Will history look back on this period and say that our technological growth was inversely proportional to our progress as human beings?
One might argue that the very essence of our humanity, our capacity to feel and respond compassionately, suffers the most, as we become more and more immersed in our own personal technological bubble that threatens to provide everything we need through a digital umbilical cord.
Indeed, the iPad Generation is here, and it is us.