I was reading an article recently about all the cool things children don’t get to experience anymore. It bemoaned all the time spent on social media, video games, and the dissolution of teaching cursive writing in school. The author didn’t completely bash technology, but I definitely got the impression he would like to go back to pre-personal computer days.
I, too, remember my childhood fondly, and it was lacking in technology. We had a primitive (by today’s standards) gaming console and a calculator, but not much else. However, I would never send my children back to those days. I am much more hopeful about how technology will improve their future.
When I think about high school, I remember learning to drive and the freedom it gave me. I also remember several people from my high school dying in car crashes. Self-driving cars combine the convenience of a personal vehicle with the ease of mass transit. There are many issues still to be solved: how do you integrate them with regular traffic (Who is at fault in a wreck?); can they go over the speed limit when the flow of traffic dictates the need; or do they get out of the way for emergency vehicles? However, never losing someone because of distracted driving or poor judgement makes this a technology to love.
Science Fiction Technology
I love watching Star Trek reruns with kids. They laugh about the sixties fashion and some of the ideas presented. They still covet many of the technologies, though. I haven’t met any kids that don’t want to use a transporter or a universal translator. The exciting thing is that some of the technologies presented might actually be available in their lifetime.
In the Star Trek universe, replicators create food, beverages, and synthetic goods from energy. While we cannot create things from energy, 3D printing is able to “replicate” items, even food, from a base material. Nobody is talking about how it tastes, but they are talking about texture, nutrition, and ease of production in tough circumstances. Kids would love being able to print their dinner. I hope I am around when most households have their own replicator.
The holodeck was programmable and provided an immersive environment for scientific discovery and play. Currently, we have virtual reality. However, the applications for virtual reality have been limited and the physical hardware is cumbersome. Now, there is theCAVE2. It is a large-scale virtual reality environment that uses display walls and second-generation virtual reality technology. Using 3D glasses, scientists, engineers, and doctors will be able to go inside and around any object of their choosing. While perfect for collaborative work and architectural or engineering design, it is not in a price range for anyone except large corporations, think tanks or universities. Nevertheless, considering how quickly computers became affordable and mainstream, it is possible future school rooms will use a “holodeck” for immersive educating or homes will have “holorooms”.
Robotic Medical Technology
Technology in healthcare is the final area that I would never reverse. Robotic arms are assisting surgeons. Roving robots allow doctors to perform telemedicine. Nanotechnology is being explored with an eye towards allowing nanobots to go into the human body. The medical robotic technology is in its infancy, but has great promise. My children might be cured of cancer by nanobots, or be assured of medical treatment, wherever they are in the world.
I believe when people talk about wishing for a simpler world, they are often talking about a time when nature was the biggest unknown, not technology. I also freely admit that technology creates problems. However, problems aren’t new, just the type of problem. Technology can make us safer, healthier, and allow us to explore new places and ideas. It provides our children with a different life context than we have. However, if we are good parents, we can still provide them with the types of experiences we value from our childhood, and teach them those ideas and morals we consider important. That is all we can do, besides look on in awe at the marvels they create.