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Technology and Expectation

Ring, buzz, ring, buzz. At holiday time, with everyone home and friends and relatives visiting, it’s easy to be driven batty by the number of personal electronic devices going off when I just want to visit with friends, have a family dinner, or enjoy some quiet time. No matter where I am, something is buzzing, ringing, singing, vibrating, or just being totally distracting. Telling everyone (including myself) to turn everything off for a short break may seem like a simple solution, and it’s do-able. But maybe that’s missing the point – a point that’s being made over and over again in every magazine and newspaper. Kids today interact with their world differently. Those devices are part of how they think, choose, play, work, connect, and generally know how and what they are in this world. Intellectually this is easy to accept, but realizing this at a more visceral level is different. During some casual conversation or trivial everyday task, something happens and the realization of how differently kids today think can hit you like a ton of bricks. And it’s not just the mere presence of a device, it’s the radical change in thinking that this ubiquity of devices and the immersion in all areas of technology have brought about. This different worldview colors (some would say taints) so many other parts of their lives and their thinking and impacts the world in so many ways.

For example, the question of who owns intellectual property and what constitutes consumer rights became a big discussion point in our house. Why buy without trying? And if you try it and you don’t like it, why pay? Today, if you buy a shirt online and realize, once in your hands, that you don’t like it, you can return it. Why, kids ask, can’t you do this with everything? You should be able to hear the music, watch the movie, play the game before you buy to make sure you’re willing to invest in it. Why pay for music at all if the songs are used to entice people to buy tickets for a live concert where the real money is made? Paying for a song is like paying to see a commercial. The movie industry, contrary to all fears, had their best year ever in terms of revenues. Forcing people to pay just to try something only creates waste.

So, downloading isn’t evil, it’s just different.

The software industry – who creates software and who owns it – has been completely turned inside-out with the growth of open source, Web 2.0, cloud computing. Who owns ideas? Anyone? Should anyone? It is a different culture.

This cultural changes also mean anyone can now create and distribute without having a select few determine what you can or cannot see and hear; the sharing of ideas, democratized.

Whether you agree with these changes or not (for example, I like to believe that intellectual property has intrinsic value that should be acknowledged for what it is. I also like the phrase “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”), they are happening. And there’s lots of room and opportunities for discussion about what this means in terms of the future job market but also around the idea of what is “fair” and what do we value.

Our kids are immersed in this dramatic change and are demanding more rights, a greater recognition of their needs, desires and goals. Then they enter too many schools that offer them nothing more than a pre-packaged education that needs to be accepted as is, no refunds, no exchanges, no changes at all. While we’re plodding along with an old model of thinking, of business, of school, young people are shaking their heads at the restrictions we’re so willing to accept and the unquestioning acceptance of the old order.

But watch out - the times they are a’ changin’.
January 14th, 2010 @ 1:19PM