Thursday, December 08, 2011

Because I Said So: Sci-fi has become fact for wired-in generation

Column 12/8/11
I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on a lecture given by hometown son Joel Seligstein, Memphis City Schools graduate and current Facebook software engineer. He was in town from California to visit family and to speak to the eighth-grade CLUE class at White Station Middle School about his work.

It was like going back in time for me, sitting in a school auditorium again, a time machine lacking in leg room with the same small seats, the same smell of adolescence and apathy I remember from so long ago. Except this was the future. We were all there to hear about how the machines make Facebook run.

As a testament to Facebook's popularity, it wasn't until close to 20 minutes into the talk that Joel even asked the assembled 100-plus students how many use the social network. Naturally, nearly every hand went up, including mine.

But I wonder. Certainly many of those students, if not all, have accounts, and have for years. But how active are they? Two of my four children are online, yet their interaction seems limited to a status update here, a snarky comment there. My theory is that their lack of activity is due to the fact that I and their mother, and our friends, are on it. Many people still tend to think of Facebook as a kid's toy, some sort of video game, yet I know close to 700 adults who participate.

When we were kids, our parents' social network consisted of neighbors and work colleagues whom we never saw. We didn't want any part of their social networking. We preferred them to be as anti-social as possible, to focus all of their attention on us and our need for action figures and the new fad of cable television.

People my age find the Internet and its social networks so fascinating, I think, because it's science fiction to us. It's all 1970s drive-in movies, it's George Lucas and Stanley Kubrick, it's "Logan's Run" and "Alien." And, with such a large population in cyberspace and on social networking sites posting so much detailed information about their users, not unlike a menu, I'm afraid it's a little bit of "Soylent Green" as well.

Social networks satisfy our nostalgia for the future.

While our children have grown up in the computer age, we never even dreamed we'd be living in a world that requires secret passwords. Secret passwords! And computers in our pockets. Pocket-size! To do anything as simple and mundane as banking these days, we have to have a username. A code name! I regularly receive text messages on my pocket computer from my 13-year-old son that require a decoder. Aggravating!

Short of jetpacks and flying cars, it's everything we were promised as kids, running around outside (the Internet has deleted any reason to even go outside anymore) and pretending to be The Six-Million Dollar Man, Luke Skywalker or Charlton Heston.

But our children take it as a matter of course. iPod? Same-old, same-old. They take their 4G Network for granted just as we must have taken, I don't know, sticks, for granted.

As our kids grow, they'll expect more and better. They'll expect faster and no spam (there was no spam in our childhood scenarios on Tatooine or in the Fortress of Solitude). Kids today will walk in the clouds, in a cloud technology that allows a middle school student in Memphis to show and tell with his new Facebook friend in California.

Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

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