The Next Generation Will Leave Us in the Dust...and That's a Good Thing

By Nathaniel Mott , written on April 10, 2012

From The News Desk

My nephew is almost three years old, and I doubt that he will remember pixels. Chances are that he'll rarely use a physical mouse and keyboard, and he will never know the sheer joy that is digging through a mass of floppy disks trying to find that one game that didn't suck quite so horribly as the others.

The way that black and white television sets look antiquated to us today will be the same way that the current crop of computers, televisions, and everything will look to his generation. I can hand him the iPad and watch as he swipes, taps, and pokes his way through the interface to get to his favorite app. It's his technological world, and I'm just living in it.

Watching children use technology is baffling. At nineteen, I'm hardly some old man, walking around in his bathrobe, complaining about UNIX and how kids these days don't even know their way around the command line. But somehow this three-year-old makes me feel like I'm outdated. I will never truly use the iPhone or iPad in the way that he does, with the understanding of someone that has grown up with this kind of technology.

This gives me hope for his generation. While people my age and older are worried about building networks and finding new ways to rake in advertising dollars, his generation might very well be the first that focuses less on the underlying network and more on the possibilities that they afford. What I'm saying is, if his generation's claim to fame is the second Zynga or AdSense, we've all failed somehow.

As technology progresses, artists are the first to change the tool from its original function to an entirely new method of creation and distribution. The Internet didn't begin as a place where I could publish this article. It was created for scientists to stay in communication with one another; it was simply repurposed by the first person that realized that they could use this new, slow-as-molasses connectivity to write words and push them out to anyone that was willing to poke around the Web.

We're building objects like the iPhone and the iPad to leverage the current technology, and I'm sure that the future of devices and applications will look so vastly different from today's model that we'll wonder how we ever used these applications, in the same way that I wonder how anyone got work done on the first version of Microsoft Word. Device manufacturers today are the Gutenberg of the modern age, building the platform and the tools for a specific purpose, while artists repurpose and warp that original vision.

Like I said above, my nephew will probably not remember what pixels look like. My own children -- who had better not be coming for another decade or so -- will probably never know what it was like to deal with Internet connections as "slow" as they are today, or why I ever worried about plugging something into the wall to charge it.

[Illustration by the awesome Dana Zemack, whose blog is here]