Danville Express

Living - January 19, 2007

The 411: Questioning technology - from the Internet to iPods

by Katharine O'Hara

I think it is safe to presume that technology of the 21st century has transcended all previous set boundaries and provided the current and future ages with infinite gadgets inconceivable a century - maybe even a decade - ago. True: Web cams, audio chats and e-mail truly are incredible ways for distant families and friends to communicate. Many even predict that entire near-future generations will be able to "telecommute" to work - that is, hold meetings, etc., by live video, perhaps never even having to leave their home. But while on the surface these technological advances appear only beneficial, we must question whether such innovations come with too high of a cost.

With the advent of such capable technology, society has catered to the antisocial and made it entirely possible to survive each day without having a single face-to-face dialogue. Who would have ever thought that e-mail etiquette would become so important? A mere misspelling of words suggests carelessness, and simple capitalization of letters connotes an angry tone. Most of what compiles human communication is deciphered through body language and vocal tone, facets of our language that cannot be perceived by simply viewing words on a screen.

This gravitation toward technology and computer-oriented correspondence has stripped the personal aspects from human communication. Many take advantage of the fact that the Internet allows for conversation without face-to-face confrontation. For example: A cuss word or derogatory name used during a bitter argument has significantly more impact when screamed in a harsh tone and accompanied with a slammed door, than when it appears as mere letters on a screen. The inhibitions and discomfort that prevent one from saying certain things in person are pushed aside, and this can prove detrimental when arguing in an online conversation. It seems many forget that their words can be copied and pasted out of context and posted all over the Internet in a matter of seconds, and that some discussions simply should be had in person.

I also can't help but notice that the generation gap between this current generation of teenagers and their parents might be wider than that of any other previous generations, as some of the most innovative and influential technology (notably the Internet and computer) has been invented in the last two decades. Because this generation of teens has grown up with complex technology in a world of computers of all shapes and sizes, in many cases, they are more technologically savvy and able then their adapting parents. This allows some teens who live an online "second life" to conceal their alter ego from unsuspecting parents. The disturbing images and comments that adorn their teens' Myspace or Xanga pages, and imply that their child leads a completely different life than the one they thought they knew, would horrify most parents.

Not only has there been a significant communication breakdown between today's teenagers and parents, but modern technology has also created a generation of impatient and snobby teenagers. Current teenagers have become so accustomed to the ease with which they can function in their daily lives due to computers and technology in general, that any discomfort or waiting time due to a technological malfunction warrants a temper tantrum. Young people have completely lost the perspective that not long ago, letters and documents were handwritten, conversations took place in living rooms, and the general standard of living was significantly lower. The field of technological innovation shows no signs of slowing down. After all, it seems Apple Inc. releases a new version of its accl*aimed iPod every other month. For the technologically inept (a category that includes a significant number of parents), it is currently a matter of overcoming the learning curve that stands in the way of understanding and mending many of the issues modern technology poses. It is important, first, to acknowledge that problems unimaginable 20 years ago are very much a part of teenager's lives, and to then use this knowledge, not to ban children from the computer, but rather to educate them in restraint and self-discipline, the appropriate uses of the Internet, and the amazing, but dangerous abyss of knowledge they have yet to delve into.

The 411 offers information and insight on the teen scene by Katharine O'Hara, a junior at San Ramon Valley High School who spends her free time going to concerts, enjoying her friends, and playing the piano. E-mail her at ohara5@comcast.net.

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