Even as we cope with the reality of fast-paced technology, we need to pass on a few smiling moments from our past to our kids, feels Veenu Puri Vermani. Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
In every generation, we hear people say the times have changed drastically. They always say things were done differently and life was a lot simpler in their time and kids are a lot smarter now than before.
I never thought I would be a part of that group. For one, these are generally older people who routinely sit down to gossip and invariably tend to make such observations. However, after much thought I have to confess I agree with them, at least in some respects.
One reason could be that I compare my kids with my childhood in India and since we grew up in different cultures, it may be very different for them here in the US. However, during short visits to India there doesn't seem to be much difference between kids growing up here and there, especially in the affluent sections of the Indian society or the upper middle class homes.
I am amazed at how four-year-olds can manipulate a mouse and play animated educational video games. Exposure to computers and computer literacy starts early. By the time they are six or seven, these kids are technologically sound and in some cases really advanced. I am often interrupted by my kids when I am trying to switch on my complicated cable/ AT&T-Uverse TV declaring I am too slow and take forever to put the TV on. They do take half the time.
Were we as smart and as quick or even in some sense as efficient as they are these days? I often wonder. They are able to plan their days in such a way as to finish their homework, find time to play for a little bit, go for their activities and even play a video game or two while being driven from one place to another. They are far more aware then we ever were. That, of course, is also the result of the tremendous media exposure and all the opportunities they have now.
I see my six-year-old watching The Wild from National Geographic and I wonder if I ever knew how a cougar is different from a lion when I was his age or if I even know that now. He talks with passion and fascination about different animals and things I couldn't care about less at his age. I was always told to avoid a dog on the streets, hush the cats away and never stand in front of a cow because it could be a mad one and hit me. As a result, I grew up being scared of animals.
Today's kids can manoeuver through the Internet fairly easily. They rattle off Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter just as we rattled off, well, nothing that I can think of.
They are already well aware of the iPod and the iPhone and now the iPad. When the iPad was launched, kids in the school were talking to each other about this new computer that was on its way. My kids went into the Best Buy store to look at it and possibly hold it. When they discovered that they were out of stock, they had us take them to another location that apparently had it on display, knowing pretty well we are not buying it.
As a result of exposure to so many video games and technology-based video devices, it is hardly a surprise that they learn fast-paced video games that require focus and precision really quickly. I am unable to compete with them on these a lot of times. I still haven't been able to match my older son's record of making 125 words in a game of Scramble in three minutes or his sports records on Wii. I have stopped trying.
Like my mom commented when she learnt that her five-year-old grandson could get on the Internet and Google words he doesn't understand or, complete school-based online tests, "It's high time I learnt to go beyond just logging in to the computer (she gets stuck on the username and password forever), or else these kids will never take me seriously."
Again it makes me think that a lot has changed since I was growing up and that wasn't very long ago. The culture and ethos when we were growing up was different. Computers had come into the mainstream while I was in college but they were only usage-based, more like a high-end typewriter. With the advent of e-mail, they became a means of communication, adding some excitement to their usage and then with advanced video and graphic technology they were a source of entertainment, taking our time away from more social, relaxed ways of spending time.
Well, after that it's been nothing less than a revolution -- the video games, the Nintendo DS, the Wii, the advent of multi-featured cell phones, iPods and iPads. Our kids were born in the middle of this technology revolution. Really it is what they are growing up with and so they are better and faster at it.
But I often wonder if all this is really all positive? Agreed, we might have smarter kids but also this is a more impatient generation. They want everything now and here. They also get frustrated faster. On TV they only want to watch recorded programmes because they don't have the patience for advertisements. Their social interactions are planned as play dates and their heavy schedules have no time for a prank.
As a kid, I remember I used to write letters to my grandfather and my cousins in Jammu. I would wait in anticipation for their reply. Nothing was more exciting for a 10-year-old girl than to get a letter in the mail in her name or to get a card for her birthday. I still have a bagful of cards and letters I cherish from my childhood. It is a simple feeling of exhilaration. But I fear that handwriting will, in a few years, be restricted to completing assignments in class and the way computers are overtaking school, it may eventually be not required to know how to hold a pencil or a pen.
For books they will have a Kindle or some other e-reader. The printed and published word will be out of the door. Instead of books, people will check out little discs from the library that are compatible to their iPad kind of devices. Social interactions will be limited to social networking sites and virtual hangouts. Eye contacts and social conversations will no longer be required. You can play games with friends or complete strangers for entertainment. Imagine a world where people will have to plan social interactions as a part of a healthy diet, just like we plan play dates for our kids here. Spontaneity and impromptu interactions will take a backseat.
Some people may think that this sounds unrealistic but the way technology is evolving and the speed with which people are adapting to it, it is not that unlikely a scenario. Something even close to that seems concerning to me.
So, even though, we are trying to cope with the reality of fast-paced new technology, and as we rush ourselves to show our kids the cool parents that we are, we need to pause and pick up a few smiling moments from our past and try to pass those on to our kids too. A letter to grandma/ grandpa, a story from our childhood, a spontaneous prank, or just a silly game to help them appreciate little things and to bring that feeling of excitement and exhilaration that we would experience from something totally inconspicuous. That will be their little treasure to pass on to the generations to come.
Veenu lives in San Diego, California