Saturday, October 17, 2009

Restoration of interactivity

My daughter signed up for a Vodafone Plan that included an allowance of 5000 messages (sms) every month. Why this ridiculously high number, I wondered. Would any sane person be able to send around 170 messages every day?

In the first month, her message score was 4000 and by the second month she had comfortably broken the 5000-barrier. Casual conversation with some of her friends revealed that this really was no big deal.

What kind of idiocy has gripped this generation, I thought. We cannot let new-fangled technologies rule our lives.

Then I came across a link to an article that Douglas Adams had written in 1999 soon after the Internet made its presence felt. Commenting on the view that it was just another silly fad, Adams wrote:

I suppose earlier generations had to sit through all this huffing and puffing with the invention of television, the phone, cinema, radio, the car, the bicycle, printing, the wheel and so on, but you would think we would learn the way these things work, which is this:

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;
2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;
3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.

And on the specific subject of messaging (the facility had just been introduced on phones in Finland) he wrote:

“Our children, however, are doing something completely different. Risto Linturi, research fellow of the Helsinki Telephone Corporation, quoted in Wired magazine, describes the extraordinary behaviour kids in the streets of Helsinki, all carrying cellphones with messaging capabilities. They are not exchanging important business information, they’re just chattering, staying in touch. "We are herd animals," he says. "These kids are connected to their herd – they always know where it’s moving." Pervasive wireless communication, he believes will "bring us back to behaviour patterns that were natural to us and destroy behaviour patterns that were brought about by the limitations of technology."

Another interesting point that Adams made was that, for much of human history, entertainment had always been interactive (theatre, music, sports...). Twentieth century with its entertainment forms (movies, radio, TV) of the non-interactive variety was actually an aberration. Internet merely restored the interactivity.

Update : Tyler Cowen explains, in an article, that far from reducing our attention span, technologies such as the Internet help in widening it.


Balajisblog said...

Raj - I think it is the folks between 40 - 50's who seem to have a problem adjusting. I was pleasantly surprised getting a sms message from my cousin sister( who is past 60 ) conveying her Diwali greetings. Ditto with my Periyappa who is past 80 ! Just yesterday, I dropped in to visit my friend's dad - his dad is past 80...and my friend lives in the US. His dad and mum were happily speaking to them in the US using skype.

As for your daughter's 5000 msgs, assuming each message takes an average of 10 seconds to type / translates to nearly 14 hours of punching keys a month ! I think you should share this statistic with her....Balaji...

Raj said...

Balaji,it's possible that alternate generations have more similarities. Grandpas tend to take the side of grandsons, rather than their sons,.

About the 14 hours every month, I am surprised. I thought she spends all the time that she is awake, tinkering with her mobile. I expected it to be much more.

Usha said...

I notice the same with my nieces whose fingers are constantly punching messages even while making conversation with me.
But what I found funnier was that they didnt have much to say to each other face to face but the moment they are out of sight they start punching messages!!!

Raj said...

Usha, once in a while I send sms messages to my daughters in the same room, to get their attention.

Ravi said...

Douglas Adam is my favourite writer. Sad he died comparatively young.

I belong to the generation where even 5 text msgs per month is too much. More so in US where its expensive and both incoming and outgoing texts are charged.

Even so, 5000 seems unimaginable to me.