Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries had The Age of Enlightenment. It was a time when great minds would hold court in the salons and set out their views on the political origins, birthright and future of mankind.
In 21st century America we have the Age of Entitlement. We have enshrined a new god, technology and he is a jealous deity, consigning us to our subservient place as “users” as we absorb ourselves in texting and taking “selfies.”
Perhaps our parents and grandparents were too successful in their efforts to leave us with more than they had. That was their goal and achieving it provided them with an endorsement of the fact that their lives had meaning. Many of us in my generation did the same. And we might have done just a little better than Mom and Dad. In fact, we may have done a bit too well.
If familiarity breeds contempt, absence of want engenders complacency. Those of us who are middle class have raised a generation that has lacked little and has even fewer aspirations.
My generation hoped that we would be able to attend college. Today’s high school grads want to know which school has the best party atmosphere. We hoped to get a decent job and rise through the ranks. Today’s kids feel that they deserve to start at the top because they’re “special.”
As a child I remember my father telling me stories about how he had to walk fourteen miles one way to school in the dead of winter, barefoot – and when he got home he had to chop the firewood and stoke the furnace. I realized that he took some poetic license in relating these sagas – but they did help me understand how much better I had it than he and his siblings.
Perhaps the greatest gift of growing up prior to our present technological era was that we had the ability to be adventurers and discoverers. If we learned a lesson it was because we learned that lesson from our own experience, not as some footnote on an internet encyclopedic entry.
When I was presented with the mathematical concept of pi it was my introduction to irrational numbers. My geometry teacher explained that it was most closely expressed as the ratio of 22/7 and that it never resolved itself in an even answer – which is, after all, the nature of irrational numbers. I was determined to find out for myself.
I remember that evening taking out several sheets of paper and beginning the long division process. As I recall, I took pi out to about five hundred places and there was no end in sight. This fascinated me as I looked for some sort of repetitive sequences, but there were none. And that got me thinking about that Euclid guy and how he had come up with this in the first place.
That sense of wonderment and inquiry is gone from our children’s life experience. What it took me hours to achieve manually can be done by any of today’s grammar school kids’ hand-held devices in a second or less. And while re-inventing the wheel is not a productive effort, I suspect that if their notepads responded to the question, “How much is 8 x 5?” with the answer 63, a significant number of our children would write that down, confident that they had responded to the question correctly.
There is no doubt that technology has, in large measure, been a boon and a benefit to mankind. Well, of course, there is that whole “global warming” thing which would probably not be an issue if we all travelled by horse and buggy. But reliance on technology and subservience to it are two different matters.
The thoughtful person cannot deny that technology is daily becoming more important in how we live our lives. I have long argued that if the GPS satellites were suddenly to disappear, half of those making their way home from work would get lost. And if we didn’t have our cell phones with us, we would not be able remotely to close our garage doors in the event we forgot, lock our houses or enable the NSA and who knows who else to track our movements.
Freed from the need to think on our own, we have willingly consigned that to whoever it is that creates the newest apps. This naturally allows us a great deal more free time. But to do what? To tweet and text and post to Facebook? To play video games? Well, there needs to be something to fill the void with all that excess time on our hands.
It is hardly our children’s fault that they spend a lot of their time in mindless activity. It is all they know and the world of technology is their world. We should not be too critical if they have an expectation of reward without effort, because we have created that environment and raised them in it. And we should not be surprised if we notice that little Suzie would rather play a game on her tablet than have a conversation with her family because it was, after all, her family that went out and purchased the latest and greatest in the world of tablets – that is until another version comes out next Christmas.
My father used to quip about how his mother, on giving him a brand new dress shirt would say, “Be careful when you wear that shirt. I don’t want you getting any stains on it and be sure you don’t tear it. Your younger brother is going to be wearing it in three years.” Have you ever heard of a family giving a “hand-me-down” laptop to a younger sibling?
As we have in large measure abandoned the more difficult tasks of personal investigation and curiosity in favor of having ready-made answers handed to us, we have ushered in our Age of Entitlement – the freedom not to think; the freedom to have whatever we want; the freedom to do as we please.
But behind all those apps and conveniences without which we cannot imagine our lives there is someone who is the creator, the inventor and the thinker providing those to us. And perhaps the next time we get ready to text one of our BFF’s about the latest goings on at the mall, a few of us might stop for a moment and wonder, “Who is it that is pushing our buttons?”