Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Anti-Singularity - The Choice of the New Generation?

To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond (1997; Performance) © Zhang Huan Studio. Image Source: Weimar Art.

Much ink has been spilt, or pixels for that matter, on the idea that Gen Y is too plugged in and knows nothing of the world as it was before it was riddled with high tech. Every week there is some piece deriding the new generation as passive, unthinking tech addicts. Here's a typical report that teenagers go into withdrawals like heroin users when their networks and gadgets are removed:
Researchers found 79 per cent of students subjected to a complete media blackout for just one day reported adverse reactions ranging from distress to confusion and isolation.

Teenagers spoke of overwhelming cravings while others reported symptoms such as ‘itcing’ which is a familiar sensation for drug addicts fighting to break an addiction.

Some even reported bulimia like symptoms where they would deprive themselves of their phones or laptops so they could binge for hours at a time later.

The study, focused on students aged between 17 and 23 in ten countries. Researchers banned them from using phones, social networking sites, the internet and TV for 24 hours.

They were allowed to use landline phones or read books and were asked to keep a diary.

One in five reported feelings of withdrawal like an addiction while 11 per cent said they were confused or felt like a failure. Nearly one in five (19 per cent) reported feelings of distress and 11 per cent felt isolated. Just 21 per cent said they could feel the benefits of being unplugged.

Some students even reported stress from simply not being able to touch their phone.

One participant reported: “I am an addict. I don’t need alcohol, cocaine or any other derailing form of social depravity.

“Media is my drug; without it I was lost.’

Another wrote: ‘I literally didn’t know what to do with myself. Going down to the kitchen to pointlessly look in the cupboards became regular routine, as did getting a drink.”
As a Gen X commenter, I am not going to join that chorus.  I am not going to walk the path my predecessors walked, and slam the generations coming up behind me.  Anyway, there are signs that this knee-jerk assumption about how people now in their teens and early twenties engage with technology is not entirely correct.

In an earlier post, I noticed some people questioning the way tech has flooded our lives in the incredibly short period of three decades.  Most of those people are Boomers, or their elders, or Gen Xers (as in this article at the San Francisco Chronicle - thanks to J.).  As I said in that post, I do not think it is possible, beneficial or necessary to reject the incredible innovations we are seeing from technology.  But we should go through this Revolution with some consciousness, step back from than rapture

The real question is whether new generations, born after the Tech Revolution began, are awakening to new caution.  What about Gen Y - or Z?  They are hyper-adapted to the new order.  Critics claim they don't know anything else.  How will they know how to consider the alternatives, or even to find balance between the virtual and the real? According to one recent report, a minority of teens and college students are pulling back from total immersion in technology:
TORONTO — If technology had a fan page on Facebook, Will Tilleczek wouldn't like it. He couldn't, considering he has no profile on the ubiquitous social networking site. The 19-year-old university student, in fact, has no online presence at all beyond an email address he checks a couple of times a day.

His days as a cellphone user are numbered, as he plans to give up his mobile device when the contract with his wireless provider expires in a couple of months. He uses a laptop to complete his school work, but only because he wasn't given the more basic desktop unit he originally requested. ...

"You find yourself wanting to use (technology) even when there's no good reason," Tilleczek said in a telephone interview from Halifax. "It keeps you from wanting to be alone and taking some time to think."

Tilleczek said portable devices often tempt him to make calls or send texts regardless of whether or not he has anything to say. He decried text messaging as "impersonal," adding the rapid-fire messages that friends often exchange to make plans often result in confusion or misinterpretation.

Tilleczek levelled similar criticisms at Facebook, saying he used to frequent the site whenever he found himself bored and at a loss as to how to fill gaps in his school schedule.

While acknowledging the convenience of being plugged into the site where most of his friends organized their social lives, he acquired a distaste for many of the standard practices at work in the social networking world.

"It just seems so fake, the idea of all those friends online," he said. "If it's really a friend, you'll probably see them in day-to-day life or call them or something like that."

Research suggests Tilleczek's attitudes don't reflect the norm for young Canadians. Matthew Johnson, Director of Education for the Media Awareness Network, said data from both the U.S. and Canada indicate technology use is on the rise in nearly every age group, but particularly among youth.

The 2007 Canada Online Survey from the Canadian Internet Project found 93 per cent of anglophones between 18 to 29 were active online, while the number rose to 96 per cent in the 12 to 17 age bracket.

A 2010 study by the U.S.-based Kaiser Family Foundation found youth between the ages of eight to 18 spent an average of seven and a half hours on entertainment media in a typical day.

"When we talk about how many young people are online, the number is very close to 100 per cent," Johnson said. "From the data we have, young people are not only using the Internet and other media in large numbers, they're using it more intensely."

But anecdotes from the most current crop of research subjects suggest Tilleczek's approach may not be as anomalous as it may seem on paper, Johnson said, adding he's aware that many youth are beginning to question the widespread proliferation of technology and the role it can play in their lives.

"It's unusual, obviously, for young people to swear off the Internet entirely, but not to go on digital fasts," he said. "I think it's good to see that some young people are beginning to question this a little bit. They're becoming aware that there is a distraction."

Ian Stiskin, 20, is among the youth who have actively tried to moderate their technology consumption. He acknowledges that time can get away from him when he gets on the keyboard, and he tries to limit his surfing to news sites and the occasional stint on Facebook. ... Most of Stiskin's friends have acquired similar technological habits, with one exception — Tilleczek.

"He's an outlier, for sure," Stiskin said with a laugh. "Most of us like our phones pretty well, and most of us see Facebook as at least useful. I'd say his stance is not extreme, but not usual."

Tilleczek is undaunted, saying he is happier reading, taking walks or spending face-to-face time with his friends than playing with technological gadgets.

"The technology, now that it's so sleek and esthetically pleasing, it almost suggests itself as a solution to a problem you think you have, when it's the technology that's posing the problem."
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