Tech Generation Z

Just the other day, my dad reminded me that our current technology hasn’t been around very long.
“You mean they didn’t have the internet when you were my age,” I asked.
“No,” he said. “Not until the mid-nineties. I didn’t even have a cell phone until 1999.”
In some ways I was astonished by his answer but not surprised. I had learned somewhere in school or in past conversations with my parents the history of cell phones and the internet. But to me these advancements seem like they have been around forever, especially since I wasn’t born until 2002.
I often tell my parents that I wish I grew up in the 1980’s like them. Back then, kids didn’t carry phones with them everywhere. They rode bikes and played outside and didn’t worry so much about what others thought about them. There weren’t such things as social media to worry about. No pressure to respond to Snap Chats or post pictures to an Instagram account. Back then it seems, kids had a lot of freedom to just be themselves without all obligatory distractions of trying to keep up a profile.
I don’t necessarily know if I like being the first generation to grow up with all these new devices and applications. Tech Guinea pigs I guess you could call us, Generation Z. Though I must grudgingly admit that growing up with the internet, I Pads, cellphones, social media, computers, and other fun technological toys, has certainly had its benefits. But what about the pitfalls?
The truth is my generation grew up worshipping screens. Some obvious consequences of this behavior are things like child obesity and video game addiction. For many children, the phone or computer screen is where the world exists and stares back at you. There is less real engagement with others today, less getting out and experiencing things first-hand. I say less because it isn’t as bad as many alarmists claim. I certainly still like to go outside to exercise, meet up with friends, or go downtown to walk around. It can still be done if you put the screen aside.
There is no denying these devices have brought us a wealth of information that can’t be found in books alone. Try typing something into Google. Or how about social media. Where else do you have the chance to interact with hundreds if not thousands of people that you would never have crossed paths with otherwise. Pretty amazing.
People my age like to meet people through Snap Chat. It’s a clever way of gradually getting to know people from afar while browsing through hundreds of potential friends. If you really like somebody you can eventually meet face-to-face. Not a bad concept. But the result is that kids today are consumed with appearances. How do I look? What do people think about me? Do my pictures portray a person who is worthy? Talk about potential self-esteem issues.
What does this sort of lifestyle really teach kids? That images and how things look are often more important than reality. Social media teaches us that people are transitory and new friends can be found on a whim. We must maximize our choices and spend a lot of time cataloguing and selecting rather than letting life naturally unfold. In some ways, technology has chained the kids of today to their gadget screens, creating an invisible barrier between them and the physical world. It is not uncommon today to have teen friends gather at one of their homes, but instead of interacting together, you’ll find them all in their own little world, staring at their own phone screen. That’s a sad result.
I suppose we need to take the good with the bad because technology is here to stay. And, there is no denying that my generation has gained a huge vault of information and experiences that can be accessed at our fingertips. If we want to tour a college in California, we can simply sit in our bedroom and do a virtual tour. What a convenience. If I need to find information about a particular college, figure how to drive somewhere, or even learn how to solve a particular math problem, I can look it up on my phone or laptop. Easy.
As much as technology has both constrained and enriched kid’s lives, I think the jury is still out on the long-term effects. Will kids grow up to be jaded adults who are incapable of interacting with reality. I doubt it. Kids are resilient. So, we must adapt and learn from our mistakes. I think as we age, most us will come to realize the technological test bubble we have been in is not all good.
If I really did have a chance to grow up in a simpler time before all this technology stuff, I’m not sure I would choose that. I would surely love not having the obligation to observe and be observed all the time. But think of all the information and options that I would have missed out on along the way.
My genuine hope for myself and other kids of my generation is that we will grow and mature, learning that life needs to be lived and not just viewed from a screen. Going for a swim or taking a hike in the woods with friends without any technological distractions, are experiences not to be missed. Even if you need to take a few pictures on your phone to document it.

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