A colleague and I used to have a reliably enjoyable argument about technological literacy.
Whenever a young person (especially his own kids) sent him a text or email with grammar he found inadequate, he’d rant about how texting was ruining their ability to communicate. They had no spelling; no grasp of sentence structure; no reading comprehension. They couldn’t express simple ideas and it was going to lead to every kind of horror from political and diplomatic disasters to an illiterate workforce and a widening class and income gap.
People simply weren’t reading enough, he said, and that would bring society down.
I would counter that people don’t read much because they don’t need to. Technology would continue to provide more efficient and provocative ways to communicate and business, education and the social fabric would change to accommodate modern skills and shortcomings.
I suggested that people had a far greater understanding of the natural world hundreds of years ago. They hunted, farmed, and understood the complex language of plants, the soil and the changing seasons in ways we no longer can.
Now, all that knowledge is academic. We don’t know that stuff anymore, because it’s less important than being able to insert a USB plug or find an email from three years ago.
He never once bought it.
Every once in a while I get a glimpse of my son’s online life. It’s mostly videos and games, but there are spaces for creativity and connection. He and his friends sometimes send each other short videos through a platform called Tik Tok.
One takeaway from this is that his sense of humor is completely bonkers, and in a few years I won’t have a snowball’s chance in following along. The other is that he and his friends and hundreds of millions of kids like them are using video to create a new language of their own.
Today’s his birthday and he is about to receive his own tablet with cameras fore and aft, and limitless storage. Things are just going to get weirder and weirder.
I just hope my style of movie making stays relevant for a few more years.