The Future Shocked Grandpa Syndrome

Is there some neurological process related to aging that makes people future shocked and fearful of technology at some point in their lives? Is this going happen to me too? I am seriously concerned at this point – I’m going to be 30 later this year, and I don’t want some cognitive switch pop in my head and turn me into technophobe overnight. I don’t want to be the guy who yells at kids to get of the lawn facebook or whatever is going to be the next big thing after it.

It seems that every middle aged person out there who have spawned some offspring this century seems to be deeply concerned by things like video games, internet and cellular technology. These are the bogymen of the present times – apparently much more worrisome than dancing, rock & roll and rap music was for their parents apparently. Just listen to their conversations sometimes. They go on and on, about how kids these don’t even want to go outside – they want to stay in, play the x-box, go on facebook and text message each other. Like it is something abhorrent. As if the technology was somehow enslaving them, and preventing them from enjoying all the awesome stuff that is outside the house… Which is what exactly?

I mean, I thought that in the last 3 or 4 decades we have definitively established that “the outside” is no place for children to be. That when they venture outside they have to be monitored at all times by a trusted parental unit, and need to wear GPS enabled phones with tracking devices and check in with the home base every hour on the hour like some double-agent going on a suicide mission behind enemy lines. We had them convinced that every van parked on the street contains a rape-hungry pedophile, and that every stranger on their street is either a lunatic serial killer, a mafia-connected human trafficker looking for new “merchandise” or just your regular confused gang member looking to “bust a cap in someone’s posterior” or whatever they do these days. If my parents would drum these sort of things into my head, I wouldn’t want to go outside either.

Few days ago I read an article written by some future shocked mother who complained that her daughters no longer act like she expected teenagers to act. That all their excursions to the dangerous world of “outside” were basically carefully engineered facebook photo-ops, and documented via constant stream of status updates and tweets. Like this is in any way weird. I mean, what else are they going to do? Each one of them is carrying a high definition camera in their pocket. Each one has a personal web presence in the form of their facebook profile, and they can fill it with pictures and stream of consciousness updates in real-time from anywhere within the cellular grid. And this lady thinks it is weird because… What exactly? Because she did not have that when she was young? Because then a camera was a very expensive, very fragile brick you had to sneak out of your father’s study and return promptly least he finds out?

As I’m getting older, I begin to see the generational gap opening between me and the new generations. I love the fact that kids growing up today never actually experienced a world without high speed internet. To me, this is fantastic. You may not see it yet, but these kids are already post-humans in a way. Their lives and communications are already expanding into the internet. They are not just mere meat-bags trapped in meat-space like their old-folks. They are online meta-presences, with their cell phones and their laptops acting like a complex metacortex extension of their mind. They are trans-humans – a new intermediate stage in human evolution. And with each generation biological minds and their electronic extensions will become more intertwined.

This process has already begun. I spoke to someone recently, who was terrified by the fact the school kids these days commit so little to memory – that they don’t feel the need to memorize and learn things by rote. To me this is logical step towards post humanism. These kids are permanently network enabled they have all of the combined human knowledge at their fingertips. They no longer have to carry facts and formulas in their heads. Storing things in neural wetware is laborious and expensive – not to mention the fact that memorizing without understanding is worthless anyway. They have to learn to understand concepts and their connections, and then index these concepts to trigger words. Facts, details and formulas can be looked up later, as long as you remember concepts and keywords.

Times are changing, and so is the human condition. And I couldn’t be more excited about it. I want to be on the forefront of whatever comes next. All the way to singularity and beyond.

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14 Responses to The Future Shocked Grandpa Syndrome

  1. jambarama UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I think, eventually, nearly everyone runs across some new technology they’re just not interested in. My father didn’t care for GPS devices, because he could look at a map once and know where he is going. He doesn’t like smartphones because they make him accessible to co-workers all the time. My mother-in-law never really got on board with the whole internet thing, apart from email, because she has a set of encylopedias and gets plenty of good magazines in the mail. My uncle refuses to use a cell phone, he thinks they cause a litany of problems – car accidents, stunting planning/organizing skills, reliance on technology supplants person development – etc.

    At some point, if you’re like most people, you’ll run across something you just don’t put the time into understanding, or don’t want. Something that everyone else will be crazy about. That’s when you become the shocked grandpa. Me? I don’t care for facebook or twitter, I don’t see any utility from sharing or reading thousands of low-content “updates.” We took a poll in a class last semester, I was the only person not on facebook. “Get off the lawn facebook!”

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  2. Victoria UKRAINE Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I am excited about the future but here’s the interesting thing: in December we had a total city blackout due to the problem with power lines. 300K people in the city. Cell phones were almost useless because network could not keep up with the number of calls – landlines were useless because most of home phones do not have batteries in the phone base. I had 2 hours of battery life in my notebook and 3G modem that worked. No electricity -> no central heating, no water since pumps were down, no hot food since many stoves are electric, not gas operated. So, basically we had a local end of the world for 6 hours. Smaller towns were powerless for several days.

    I freaked out a bit :) we are so technology dependent these days that I am afraid to rely strictly on network, databases and other digital sources. We had an interesting discussion with one of my colleagues that the majority of people (even the technically savvy) regard technology as magic. Very few people know and understand how it actually works. Gosh, I myself a CS graduate do not know so many things about modern technology – I know that certain things are possible, but how actually they are done – not a slightest idea.

    My own brain becomes more and more lazy when I know that I can always look something up later. In college I could recite whole pages, nowadays I barely remember where exactly I have read something :) and I’m only 28. Is the information load that much heavier or am I becoming more stupid? That is the question with which I am going to finish this ramble :)

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  3. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Wow, your post struck me at a personal level. Being a geeky parent, I’m really looking forward to raising me version 2.0 surrounded by gadgets.

    At a fundamental level, I don’t see much difference really: in the past, kids hang out physically; now, they hang out virtually. They do so out of a desire for interaction. As a kid, I used to play “cops and robbers“. Now, kids play L4D2.

    As a parent, I actually welcome the latter. Virtual hanging out means my kid’s digital tracks will be all over the place. As a parent, I know all the places to check: cookies, browser history, OS event logs, router logs. I can personally redirect their traffic using my home server. I can enlist in services such as OpenDNS to filter their surfing habits. There are also tons of parental and account controls built into all the 3 major OSes which I can leverage on to control what my kid is doing on his own machine. Remotely even.

    Also, I don’t mind a session of L4D2 with my kid. Or some other similar game when he learns to use the keyboard and mouse.

    Of course, it takes effort to setup and maintain, and effort to stay one step ahead of all the tricks my kid will try to pull, short of social engineering me out of my passwords.

    I’ve already caught the tracks of my young cousin googling “boobs” once. Perhaps it’s an indication to talk to him about the birds and the bees. :P

    Perhaps one lesson I’m already anticipating is how to teach online etiquette. I have a niece who will never dare to be rude to her elders in person, but posts such stuff on her facebook wall. It will be a challenge.

    I think kids today are already forgetting a time before mobile broadband. It’s already happening!

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  4. Sorry, this comment got way too long, but it is a topic that is dear to my heart.

    I think the old ways are breaking down and we have not yet come up with new ways. With the old ways, one purpose of schools was to teach kids how to be a “good” member of society (sit still, don’t talk to your neighbor, pay attention, etc.). If someone deviates from that pattern (short attention span, can’t sit still, etc.), it is always a bit scary (to me, too). Now all we have to do is to come up with new ideas for schools. For example, Sugata Mitra [1] has experimented with children teaching themselves in poor contries. The outcome suggests that teachers are not as strictly necessary as we think. Adults should still be around as role models, but teaching by osmosis often works better than teaching by instruction.

    The old ways are about control and I suspect were are moving towards less control and more anarchy. Authorities becoming less dominant is one example (press being partially replaced by bloggers, catholic church losing power, etc.). Losing control is always a bit scary and that’s why I think people who are used to the old ways have difficulty with some new developments. Status, career, authorities, the importance of knowing your facts, are all slightly related. I’m not against knowing things, but my experience of school was that we learned things superficially, by rote, and with not nearly enough context.

    I’m approaching 40 and “get” most of technology. If I don’t understand something (Twitter’s fascination is still a bit of a mystery to me) then I at least try to understand why so many people like it and don’t dismiss it as a sign of the apocalypse (as some do). Many new trends are just an extrapolation of existing things, so maybe people are afraid of a mirror.

    [1] http://www.2ality.com/2010/08/3-ted-talks-on-education.html

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  5. Dileep UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I have a reservation with the memorising bit. I don’t have the time to compose proper prose for this, so I’ll use examples and analogies instead.
    I prefer to make the distinction between robust biological components that have evolved for millions of years, and tech-addons. I see value in relying more on the former. That is why people still practice running, even when they own cars and jetpacks and portals. These systems are buggy and can fail. Then, it helps to fall back on the old, and faithful legs and muscle.
    I come from India, and one curious quirk about Indian traditional knowledge is that it was written in verse, designed to be passed on through memorisation. The literary artistry involved in weaving together concepts to prevent decay/modification through successive iterations was akin to error-control coding. Most of our records only survived periodic empire-collapses because entire schools could be revived by a handful of survivors.
    But archival advantages aside, even today, we write closed-book exams at our universities, even at the graduate level. I think intimate buffering of detail within grey matter allows for multiple neural pathways to excite eachother in new ways, allowing for insight. I for one, would not visit a doctor who googles his diagnosis.

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ jambarama:

    Honestly, I’m a casual Facebook user. Most of the time I don’t really see the need to friend-stalk and follow the minute details of my friends’ lives via their status updates. But I do see the utility of it – that’s how the younger generations are communicating nowadays. That’s how most people share pictures (with the horrible, horrible compression and all).

    If kids are doing it, there has to be something to it. For me, this is a good enough reason to force myself to investigate the technology and give it a whirl. That’s sort of my point – you don’t have to love it, or even be excited about it. Just use it, understand it, don’t get left behind. That’s sort of my goal – try to keep up, even if I don’t particularly like where the new trends are taking us.

    @ Victoria:

    Yeah, this is a problem. Actually it is several problems but chief of them is this:

    - How do I access my stuff offline?

    We already solved this issue long time ago though. It is called caching. Our browsers already do this all the time. But we currently treat our browser cache as trash and privacy concern that ought to be deleted. Most browsers don’t support offline browsing of your cache very well. I believe this is something we ought to work on.

    We ought to be able to have a permanent cache, that is indexed and easily searchable and easy to browse. Our offline memory so to speak. Something we looked up once, should be easy to fetch back even if network is not online.

    The other issue you speak off is the power thing. That is a huge issue but… That can be solved too. I think I touched upon this in the Zombie Survival Kit post – you can always get a personal solar panel kit, that would potentially allow you to recharge your electronics.

    Eventually we will get to a point where we will be able to charge our hardware via body heat, or have it installed as wetware and have it be supplied with energy just like any other organ in our body.

    @ Mart:

    I can already tell your kid will turn out to be an upstanding netizen. It is actually kinda scary to think most of kids today grow up without any parental guidance. They have full access to the net, but no one to guide them through it. This is why Youtube comments are essentially the embodiment of eternal September. This is why kids get in deep trouble assuming internet anonymity when it is merely an illusion.

    The fact that parents today are simply incapable of guiding and protecting their children because of their technological ineptitude worries me. I mean, how can even hope to rise a child the right way if you can only comprehend about 30% of what is going on in his/her life.

    @ Axel Rauschmayer:

    I absolutely agree. I do believe that the breaking down of authority will become a major global trend. Especially since the authority these days seems to have a lot of trouble coping with change. Governments are struggling to even begin understanding what is going on on the internet these days, and they are under a lot of pressure from special-interest groups to put a lid on all the new emergent trends that threaten to make their business models completely obsolete in less than a decade.

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  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Dileep:

    Actually, I believe most people practice running mostly in order to stay fit. Our bodies were not really designed for sedentary life style combined with high calorie diet. So in order to stay healthy we need to watch what we eat, and exercise. I do not think anyone out there jogs every morning because of a fear his car will one day break down, and they will be forced to leg it to work.

    Yes, our vehicles are faulty but we do have support systems for that. If your car breaks down in the middle road, you just call a towing company and they will come and get you.

    As for your memorization point: yes, I agree but I think we are talking about slightly different things. I do believe that for now it is crucial to keep most of your knowledge in your biological memory. We don’t have high bandwidth electronic memory to rely on.

    That said, our biological memory is faulty as well. We forget things. It is sometimes incredibly difficult to retrieve memories. Our memory can be altered via simple process of auto suggestion. Having another layer of electronic memory would be nice – you could then reconcile and verify from both sources. But alas, we don’t have that yet.

    So yes, you should memorize certain things. The problem with that is: how much are you going to remember 5 years from now. I think every knowledge student knows how to cram for an exam, but few retain that knowledge for a long time.

    A doctor can usually diagnose stuff of the top of his head, because this is what he does every day. Same with someone working as syadmin – 90% of server issues will be something that you have dealt before and remembered. Every once in a while though, you run into something exotic that you will need to look up. This goes for doctors, sysadmins and whoever.

    We are lucky enough we can look it up on the fly using broadband network uplink instead of hiking to a library and hitting the books for an entire evening.

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  8. ZeWrestler UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    In my day, we used a 56k modem to access the internet via-dialup on our phone lines. None of this cable modem crap. =P

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  9. Hector SPAIN Google Chrome Linux says:

    A parent myself, I could’ve signed Mart’s comment :-)
    My kids are 3 and 5, and both play with my PSP, and the smartphone, And they have an old Dell machine with Ubuntu to play with too. And I try to play with them!
    I just want them to understand, to learn the things they can do, and how it really works.

    On the future scare, I agree with Jambarama. Time is a finite resource, and I have to choose where do I spend it. I have nothing against facebook (not a generational gap here, I have several friends my same age who spend hours at a time in facebook), I just get my kicks from different activities. i.e. Learning new programming languages.
    I just try to keep an open mind.
    Oh, and kids are really time consuming!

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  10. Zeke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I have noticed to be honest i have some friends who are so obsessed with facebook that it makes me sick. Im 20 and, and use facebook once a month to check up on my birth dad every now and then, and thats it. The fact that EVERY second of ones life is needed to be on facebook is pathetic, and people need to put their energy into productive things. when i say this i am referring to less self centered activities, ones that help other people. yeah, helping people. I am no sociologist, but the thing is, it seems people who are always on facebook tend to be introverted, self centered people who’s concern over others is shoved away by their need to communicate. its an addiction. theres plenty of other things. Now im not bashing it totally, but its pretty sad to watch people like that, makes me almost feel Superior, perhaps they feel the same.

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  11. Eric Google Chrome Ubuntu Linux says:

    My question is what are these kids going to do when our civilization crashes and we have to learn how to survive without modern technology. If you look at our past civilization crashes fairly regularly.

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  12. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ ZeWrestler:

    56K? I used to access the inter webs with 26k modem. When I finally upgraded my modem to 56k I was like “OMG, this is soooooo fast”. Now if a page does not load in seconds I immediately I assume that it is either down, or that my internet is out.

    @ Hector:

    Same here. I don’t really do all that much on facebook either. I don’t use it the way some of the younger people I know use it. But I don’t discard it as something useless as some people do. It is all about keeping an open mind. :)

    @ Zeke:

    See, I think part of the issue here is that these kids grow up without a guidance in this area. Their parents may be able to give them sage advice on relationships, school, work related stuff – but when it comes to communication networks, social media and data privacy they are clueless. No one tells these kids what is appropriate and not appropriate facebook material. No one warns them about privacy issues and possible implications. No one tells them how easy is to get your account taken over by some pisher or script kiddie if you are not paying attention.

    These kids are given very, very powerful tools, high bandwidth uplinks and and are let loose to roam the wilderness of the internet without fully understanding how it works, and what dangers it may pose to them. No one to warn them, no one to guide them. No wander some of them get little carried away.

    It is a different kind of future shock – one where you get lost in the new without fully understanding it. But with some guidance and some forceful knowledge insertion they can be steered the right way.

    @ Eric:

    Actually, our civilization has never really “crashed” since like the fall of Rome. And even then, vast amounts of knowledge were preserved. The smaller crashes are usually local – nations fall, empires crumble, but it is all local damage. They are replaced by other nations and empires. Civilization and technology is usually preserved. If things go to hell here one day, these kids can just move to a more civilized part of the planet and continue their connected lives there.

    I mean, ever since we got the internet there was no global crash that would shut it down. And it would be quite difficult to arrange for something like that anyway.

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  13. Ben UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Gentoo Linux says:

    I love this post, I have actually worried about this too. It’s all good to joke about a university course ECE 736 Advanced VCR Programming, but there does seem to be a point when people no longer adapt to technology. Personally I think this is also the point when people no longer care to learn new things.

    The technophobes I have seen are those that get home from work and sit in front of the television until bed time. They have no interest in learning anything new. So it would be my bet that as long as you keep in pursuit of new skills and knowledge you will probably be able to keep up with technology.

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  14. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    http://www.365tomorrows.com/01/27/adult-education/

    Relevant.

    Also if you don’t already know of 365 Tomorrows, it is quite a good site.

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