We all heard some version of this growing up and reacted in a similar way: rolling our eyes with mild admiration, but likely with even a bit more apathy. That would never be me when I was older. I was raised in the 90s, part of the Millennial Generation. While my Mom was recalling flashbacks of her long walks to and from school, I was busy playing Duck Hunt on my Nintendo. I was popping in that fresh VHS copy of TMNT. I was making lights flash on my sneakers every time I took a step. While she was talking about the early days, I was thinking about the present and to me, the present looked an awful lot like the future.
And yet, here I am in 2013. I'm 28 years old, just days away from becoming an uncle and of course, the thought just entered my head:
When we were growing up, we didn't have all of the things he'll have today.
What has happened to us over the last 20 years? In what seems like a blur, we've experienced the most accelerated rate of technological innovation that the world has ever seen. As kids, history classes taught us about the importance of the steam engine and the assembly line, which allowed for major progress and influenced the lives of every person on the planet. But these were just pictures words in a textbook. One of the travesties of the fast-paced world we live in is the failure to look back and reflect on how these changes have affected our life experiences.
The truth is that we have our steam engine and assembly line; they came in the form of the Internet and the cell phone. A thesis can probably be written on what breakthroughs were necessary in order for these technologies to be made possible, but let's look at the bigger picture. We are the last generation that will remember life before and after these technologies were introduced and adopted by the masses. As I think about the future life my nephew will lead, I can't help but think about how technology will significantly alter his childhood compared to my own.
I think about how I would run outside every morning to grab the newspaper from the driveway, so I could spend some time with my Dad, reading about the events of the day before. But for him, news will always come via feeds, streams and tweets, informing him about moments that happened only a few seconds before.
I think about those days I would discover music by sticking a cassette tape into my boom box and recording the top 20 countdowns off of the radio. But for him, physical media will never be a part of his life.
I think about my regular trips to the county library, spending hours exploring endless racks of books and cozying up in a corner once I found just the right one. But for him, a trip to the library will consist of a 1-click checkout on Amazon, followed by the perusal of digital pages.
I think about the early days we first had that 28k modem that I would turn on and then head downstairs for a snack, because it would take that long to get connected. But for him, fast and instant is what he'll always know and expect.
I think about all of the people that I idolized as a kid, feeling as if they were so far away as I watched them on TV and in the movies. But for him, with a smartphone and the powers of social media, everyone will have the means to be a potential star and every star will be only a click (or tweet) away.
I think about the camera making it's way out for birthdays and family trips, but most evidence of my childhood remains captured through my memories. But for him, every important (and not important) day of his life is going to be photographed and documented.
I think about the fact that every time we used to leave the house, the only way to contact another person was face to face. But for him, being connected to everyone in the world at all times will seem like the only way to live.
If you consider any of these thoughts as singular points, they may feel understandably trivial. Collectively though, they amount to so much more.
Much like how the steam engine and assembly line forever changed the landscape of transportation and manufacturing, the Internet and cell phone have fundamentally changed the landscape of how we obtain information and how we communicate with each other. They also opened up the doors for things like social networking, text messaging, streaming media, mobile photography, e-commerce, crowdfunding, and online education. At the most basic level, this means that these technologies were deemed to be so impactful in improving our lives, that we universally felt the need to change the way we do things to adopt them. To put the impact of the cell phone into perspective, in the last 20 years, mobile phones have gone from being virtually non-existent to being accessible to 75 percent of the world population!
Some would argue that technology is progressing too quickly as we become increasingly dependent on being connected 24/7. While it's hard not to agree with this point at times, I remain optimistic that we'll continue to evolve to find balance in our online and offline worlds. I'm a strong believer in the idea that if we want to tackle the most important and challenging problems we face in this world, continued advancements in technology are going to be a critical part of nearly every solution.
So as my nephew comes into this world as a member of the next generation of thinkers, artists and innovators, I can't help but think about...
What is going to make his kids say, "Back in my day..."?
Are there any changes between then and now that you "think about"? Post them in the comments below.