Sunday, February 9, 2014

Happy Birthday Jessicca!

Letter to my Daughter
Sunday, 9 February

Happy Birthday Jessicca…

You’re twenty years old today.  The years ahead for you will be revolutionary in scope.  They will be so different from the days of my time.  On the whole I think your future will be much for the better.  In any case, you are bound for an adventure.

It’s extraordinary how rapidly the human family is changing with time.  We have the opportunity to be in touch with, and to be influenced by, far more people than ever before.  Smart phones linked to the internet keep us virtually in touch with everyone we’d care to know at most any time.  We are constantly being updated with the status of all our friends and acquaintances.  This has become a daily routine in many people’s lives. 

The news of the world is available to us almost the instant it is reported.  Nearly every product that isn’t quickly perishable is available to us online, complete with consumer rating and price comparisons, if we care to know.  Highly defined images of every variety are presented to us from flat screens large enough to dominate a wall.  Combined with inexpensive surround-sound audio systems we have the theater experience within our own home.   Viewing a movie requires only accessing a menu to choose from a long list of past and present features that are instantly provided by a commercial database accessed, once again, through the internet. 

Software that reads handwriting, understands the spoken word and is able to translate one language into another is constantly improving.  Interconnected computer systems handle much of our daily lives, whether we are out and about, in our homes or traveling by car.  Products iconic to our lives just a few years ago are becoming rapidly obsolete and nearly forgotten.  Cameras are going the way of the typewriter.  Why have libraries of music on hand when you can precisely program your own musical preferences from a playlist offered by a service somewhere in the clouds?  The printed word found on book-bound paper is a cumbersome means of storing information.  Why lug around a file cabinet when all its contents are easily stored on a disk that fits in your pocket?  Why settle for a phone that merely allows you to talk to another person when it can also be your personal assistant that comes to your aid several times during the course of the day?  Want a good lasagna meal out – ask the phone.  It tells you what Italian restaurants are in the area, how to get there, what their customers think of them and what you can expect to pay once it’s time to move on to the next item on the agenda.

You’re young so most everything here is a familiar part of your daily life.  You’ve come to rely on all these features without giving them much of a thought.  Older people see these developments as new and dramatic – possibly even confusing and threatening.  The fact is this explosion in technological change has just begun for all of us.  It’s a fast building snowball on a steep downhill slope.  New technologies accelerate research and development into other new technologies and propel their production with new, more efficient means.  Once we changed product models year to year.  Now we are taking the product’s very concept and refashioning it, comparable to a compressed version of the growth of television.  First it was tubes and rooftop antennas then came transistors and cable boxes, followed by the VCR, then DVD, then Blu-Ray, programmable DVRs, 200 channels, Netflix, YouTube and Hulu.  That’s good but it isn’t good enough.  We’re just warming up – on everything you can think of.

The intent is for a future of continuing improved benefits.  It would be hard to argue otherwise.  But there will also be new challenges for each of us and even possible danger.  We are letting a powerful genie out of the bottle, a genie whose potential for mischief is only vaguely appreciated.  Who controls the genie?  How do we control those who control the genie?  Computers have given us the means to open up anyone’s personal life for all to see.  They enable criminals to pick our pockets, pilfering our funds like mice in sneakers tiptoeing about the attic.  Our own identities can be hijacked without our even knowing until the day comes when we have to plead that all the gang of me running about are all counterfeit.  I’m the real me.  Honest.

Unmanned and undetected drones of ever-increasing ability will not only become more widespread among the globe’s militaries but are also viewed as a natural extension of our own government’s law-enforcement.  And it’s not just government that’s interested in keeping tabs on us but commercial businesses, as well.  Because so much of what we do requires our own path on the internet, it isn’t difficult for our actions to be tracked, dissected and scrutinized to figure out how we operate and what buttons need to be pushed to get us to do what others want us to do. 

How will all this affect you?  What about our relationships with others?  Is there a point when our ability to access always new and varied people becomes something that feels like a consumer searching for a better product?  What about that age-old institution of marriage?  How does it fit into our highly mobile, restless society in search of opportunity?  How long will we adhere to the love, marriage, baby-carriage life-long rule of thumb?  Does the image of a family raised under one roof become a nostalgic Hallmark Card theme – replaced by the more complicated dynamics of an extended family of multiple spouses under vastly separate roofs?  If that’s what we want, yes.  We are no longer shackled by rigid marriage contracts.  The human heart is freed.  Amen.

The increasing role technology plays in our lives provides us with evermore opportunity to improve ourselves, while at the same time, we can become intoxicated with technology-bred new freedoms without ever noticing the risks involved.  Let’s celebrate our individual liberty while recognizing that every freedom has a price tag.  We always give up something to gain something else.  How bad do we want it?  There are no free lunches whether its money or matters of the heart.

I’m letting a bit of my humbug leak out, aren’t I – and on your birthday.  Shameful!

Be positive.  Favor your natural optimism.  You’re young and beautiful.  Have a wonderful 20th!


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