Peter Cochrane's Blog: Kids today

I remember when the TV remote was connected by wire...

Written and edited in a coffee shop in Woodbridge, Suffolk UK. Dispatched from my home via wi-fi and optical fibre.

One inherent role of all parents seems to be a continuing concern about the education, skill and knowledge of their offspring. Throughout history the old have bemoaned the young and as a teenager I can remember being castigated for using a slide rule instead of log tables. The modern equivalent of this seems to be using a pocket calculator rather than mental arithmetic. Did it, or does it, really matter?

Year-on-year society and technology change, as does education and understanding. What mattered yesterday becomes worthless today. Having had four children, and working with a lot of young people, I am convinced (more or less) that history is correct. She sees it for what it is - progress. But recently all my children left home and I have lost one of my key barometers of society. So I have taken to observing (even more) the activities of friends' families and what they do with technology. Every age range of offspring sees and uses new technologies. The oldest of mine (now 32) saw the arrival of colour TV and VHS, whilst the youngest (now 18) has only seen and experienced these technologies in use. So what of today's youngsters, what do they see? One eight-year-old I came across has never seen a computer connected to anything other than a power outlet when charging. He lives in a wi-fi environment at home and at school. But it gets better. His father works for an internet company and has a free hand to experiment. His car has a wi-fi hub wired to a 3G terminal so on the move there is a continual connection to the internet. This boy wanders from house to car with an unbroken service, lives a continually connected life unencumbered by the need to connect and all that entails. Now here's the bummer... He has no real concept of a network, and he seems to have no concept of being connected in the same way I do. This realisation caused me to think through my perceptions. All my life I have been involved in wiring things, connecting components, boxes and devices to one another. Better still, I worked in a TV repair shop, and for a phone company as a lineman. I have also wired computer networks in buildings and racks. So I think I know what a network is, and have a strong perception of being connected. But how will this work for a new 'what's a network?' generation? How will they cope and deal with the world 20 or 30 years from now? Worrying? Perhaps! But how many people understand how an internal combustion engine, electric motor, refrigerator, radio, TV, PC etc work today? Not many! And the world keeps turning, we keep progressing and things keep working. I remember when the TV remote was connected to the set by wire. What a weird concept, eh, can you imagine?

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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