How much they’re changing was brought home to me this morning, when a school bus passed me on my way to work.
Back in my day the school run was often a fraught affair – only the hardest and toughest of bus drivers were up to the job – ex-special forces and hard-bitten characters, with tattooed knuckles and scars from illegal street fights, generally. Half the time you were lucky to even be delivered to school: it was equally likely that the driver would decide to divert to the nearest police station if things got particularly out of hand.
Fights, rioting and ritual humiliation were the order of the day on most journeys to school. Emergency exits had to be nailed shut – not that it stopped them from being opened, and even when it did, there were other alternatives. On one memorable occasion i recall someone managing to remove the entire rear window intact, before attempting to throw their companion through the gaping hole! Crowd surfing from the rear to the front was commonplace, although this did tend to wind up the drivers and more than one errant youth was thrown off the bus for such behaviour. Conversely, those of meeker disposition were often thrown from the bus, usually off the top deck by the rowdier element surrounding them.
School bus runs were nothing, if not interesting and i swear that it wasn’t unusual for NATO to be called upon to quell the insurrection when it all became a bit too much for the driver to control. Ah, happy days!
Not so on the school bus that passed me today, in fact i had to do a double-take to confirm it was indeed a school service at all. Yes, it was crammed to the gunnels, (can buses have gunnels?), with spotty teenagers, clad in regulation outrageously knotted ties, scruffy blazers and girls in skirts so short and tight that they’d have driven any male teacher into madness or prison. It was definitely a school bus, but there was something terribly, terribly wrong: no blood, nobody dangling from windows, no tear gas and no UN peacekeeping escort. In fact, as teenage passengers go, they were eerily silent and still, and – heaven forbid – well behaved!
The reason for this supernatural calm was apparent on closer inspection – every last one of them either had a couple of white wires dangling from their ears, or else was utterly engrossed in fiddling with a small piece of electronic wizardry, thumbs executing a complex choreography at a speed that would have left most card sharps shaking their heads in disbelief.
This is what technology is doing to our younger generation – we are seeing the evolution of a new species: iSapiens! A generation for whom interaction with the surrounding world means remaining entirely oblivious to the person sat on the seat next to you on the bus, whilst being entirely engaged with a tiny, restrictive digital substitute for life. And it’s a strange life: a life consisting of soundbites and six-second movie snippets; a life limited to 140-character conversations; a life whr vwls rnt nccsry 2 tlk; a life that is overpoweringly black and white, where everything falls into the categories of ‘like’ or ‘dislike’, thumbs-up or thumbs-down, 1 or 0 – it’s a truly digital world, a world in brief… a shorthand existence. (Not that anyone remembers shorthand!)
Rather than getting out and about, falling out of trees, rioting at the seaside, getting arrested and sticking safety pins through their noses, today’s generation express their contempt for convention and authority by employing the simple expedients of unfriending and trolling – it takes less energy and is less likely to put you in jail, but probably hurts the recipient far more!
It’s a whole new paradigm: no longer is the geek an object of derision, instead it’s the poor kid who isn’t keeping up with technology, doesn’t have the latest bit of high-tech kit, has the fewest online friends and doesn’t engage with the latest geeky meme that cops all the flak these days. If only we’d known what was to come when we were in school, things might have turned out very differently!
You’d imagine that this would be great news for sl, but oddly the digital generation is perhaps less likely to engage positively with our quirky virtual world than ever before.
To begin with, sl is not mainstream. It’s a bit passé, if the truth be told – too much a niche product to be considered desirable. A couple of dozen virtual people, with disparate interests on a friends’ list, who rarely – if ever – make the effort to exchange messages is never going to command the attention of the Facebook generation, who are used to hundreds of friends who spent their entire lives posting banal and boring messages about, well… their entire lives, and share a common addiction for Candy Crush Saga.
Then there’s the very rationale of sl – it’s old school, even though in technical terms it’s still way ahead of the times in very many ways. SL may be a virtual world, but it trades in very tangible human commodities: creativity, collaboration, interpersonal relationships, one-to-one and group interaction. It is far less egocentric than much of the first-person based types of networking that the internet and modern technology encourages – whereas the world comes to you on the rest of the .net, in sl you have to reach out and connect to the virtual world. To get the most from sl, you have to be prepared both to give and to seek out experiences that are meaningful to you, and that includes interactions with other people. What use is that sort of a world to someone who sits there, firing off status updates to a nebulous group of pseudo-friends, whilst completely oblivious to the presence of the real human being sat next to them?
SL is far too much like the real world to successfully engender engagement from iSapiens – for sl to be a worthwhile experience, you have to be prepared to experience it, to connect with others in a meaningful fashion that goes beyond clicking on a friending button, just because they friended you. It’s a world where you have to be prepared to interact and go out into the environment, create and pursue your own goals and generate your own entertainment, and i fear that might well be beyond the capabilities of some of the upcoming generation.
Whereas for us life, and even Second Life, is all about experience, it strikes me that life for iSapiens is a far less tangible thing and – for me – that means less meaningful too.
Thank you, driver, for getting me here
You’ll be an inspector, have no fear
I don’t want to cause no fuss
But can I buy your Magic Bus?
The Who – Magic Bus