As a matter of tradition, each year at Christmastime, my family would either fly or drive (depending on where we were living at the time) down to my maternal grandparents’ house in Phoenix. Upon our arrival that morning, we would be greeted by my grandparents and all of the other members of my mother’s relatively small family. The day would be spent with the grown-ups discussing all the new developments in their lives, while the few kids grouped together in necessarily loose age groups.
Then there was me. After the obligatory hugs, kisses, and smiles to the members of the family clan, my father would take me into a quiet and unoccupied room, boot up his laptop, and set me up with the computer games which would consume my attention for the next few hours (until it was time to gather around the tree to open presents). My parents—and perhaps my extended family as well—would have no doubt preferred that I not seclude myself away from the festivities in exchange for the company of animated characters on an LCD screen. But they were also well aware that I had a volatile temper and that sometimes concessions like this were the easiest way to keep it dormant, so they let it slide until they felt that I was old enough to “tough it out” and spend the day interacting with the rest of the family.
While the family socialized and engaged with one another, I preferred to pass the time on my own (in large part due to my borderline pathological shyness, even around blood relatives). It’s thus rather fitting that I should be enrolled in ASU’s online program while most other college students are attending brick-and-mortar institutions.
A bona fide millennial, I was born in 1995, when personal computers were gaining more and more of a presence in the average American home. I was never an avid watcher of television; I preferred the more interactive stimulation provided by the computer. Before I’d even reached two years of age, I had begun regularly playing computer games on my father’s work laptop (with his permission and often under his direct supervision, of course). My mother recalls that I was particularly fond of alphabet games and word games in general. It was largely through the medium of ‘edutainment’ games such as JumpStart Toddlers and Reader Rabbit that I learned the alphabet by age two and was able to read by age four. but once my father brought home a used (but functional) desktop computer one day, it was difficult to pry me off of it.
I wasn’t only interested in computer games, though. At an early age, I took to writing short stories about whatever random ideas came into my head. My mother was a writer, so it’s likely that I picked up some of my enthusiasm for the activity from her. When I was six years old, she bought an AlphaSmart, which was essentially a portable word processor that could be hooked up to a printer. At a time when laptops had yet to become commonplace, I thought the AlphaSmart was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I used it almost as frequently as my mother did, cranking out all sorts of stories which always seemed to lack characters, plots, or often both. I never felt a genuine sense of commitment to any given story, and if I seemed to reach an impasse in one, I often deleted it and started over afresh. But there was something fulfilling about the writing itself, and the technological side of it probably amplified the excitement I derived from it.
Flash forward to today, and in the proverbial blink of an eye, the entire technological landscape has changed dramatically in little over a decade. We’ve gone from the frustratingly slow dial-up Internet access to increasingly widespread broadband access via Wi-Fi. Over the past few years, the so-called ‘smartphone’ has become omnipresent
among Americans of all ages, which has essentially rendered the ‘stationary’ attribute of the Internet outmoded. The smartphone, in my view, has become the single-most life-altering piece of technology to come about in my lifetime.
I believe (and am sure that most would concede) that there are both benefits and drawbacks to the surge in smartphone ownership. On the positive side, people have instant access to all sorts of information on every topic imaginable at the tips of their fingers at any given moment. Ideally, they—like the dumbphones that came before them and are still in use by many today—can be used to keep in touch with the family and friends who you would otherwise lack the ability to keep in touch with. On the flip side, they can easily become all-consuming; sometimes it seems that your smartphone is actually using you. The “phubbing” phenomenon (i.e., ignoring your face-to-face companion[s] to use your phone) is easily observable wherever you go, and the deleterious effects of smartphone addiction have been well-documented for years.
I own one of these smartphones, but I have learned to use it sparingly. To be more precise, I actually feel a bit overwhelmed and stressed out in those situations where I feel obligated to check my phone repeatedly. I prefer to leave it be until a situation arises where I’m compelled to use it again.
I’m no longer the four-year-old kid addicted to technology; that’s no longer me.
(…he typed on his laptop keyboard.)