Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Child of My Time

For the next ten weeks, this blog will be a lab of sorts.  I am taking a personal essay class through Inprint  in which we will be studying the different styles of essay writing.  The first style we studied was New Journalism, which was created by Joan Didion (Blue Nights, The Year of Magical Thinking) and Tom Wolfe (Electric Koolaid Acid Test). The style brings together journalism and elements of fictional writing.

"I am talking here about being a child of my time."   -  Joan Didion

We grew up before the digital revolution.  We had computers in elementary school, but they didn’t do much.  They were large and boxy with bright orange cursors that blinked solemnly until someone fed a large square floppy disk into the drive – and I don’t mean the 3.5 inch floppy that is currently a dinosaur.  I mean the ones before.  The 5 ¼ inch monstrosities that held a maximum of 1.2 MB of data.  One of my clearest memories is of Mrs. Fontz, my computer teacher, who always wore a large immaculate bun on the back of her head and whose closet seemed to contain an endless supply of bright orange pant suits.  Mrs. Fontz, zealous guardian of our nascent technology, blew a gasket when I placed a floppy disk on the table without putting it in a sleeve first.  I wonder what she would think of the USB drive I carry around on my keychain with 16,000 times the capacity of her floppy -  no sleeve, but that came later.  My contemporaries and I were blissfully unaware of the siren call of smooth glass screens and bright flickering colors that would seduce future generations as well as our adult selves.  We spent our time probing the mysteries of the world around us. 
There was the house at the end of the street that was tucked away behind a thicket of trees.  It’s wooden slats were weathered and the once white paint that covered them was faded and sort of gray.  It was perfect fodder for neighborhood legends about witches and young children who were never seen again after trespassing on that property.  I don’t remember ever seeing the person or people who actually lived there, but I remember the house as clearly as if I was standing in front of it whispering conspiracy theories with the neighborhood gang.

There were the woods beyond that house which we were forbidden to go into by our parents, so of course we did.  We got on our bikes, found a gap in the fence along the perimeter of the trees, and searched for treasure in what seemed to us to be the darkest and most remote recesses of our small, protected world.  The only treasure we ever really found was the exhilaration of riding at top speed along the edge of the bayou that separated our neighborhood from the next.  When the water was low, we crossed over and for a few precious minutes, we were free.

Video games existed, but were not as common as they are today.  Those who had them made sure everybody knew.  The rest of us jealously crowded around their system waiting for our turn to play.  When we got bored, we went back outside, crossed the field on the northern end of the neighborhood and wandered the aisles of the then small flea market, leafing through comic books, buying 10 cent candies and listening as the music that drifted from the boom boxes at the various stands mingled and became white noise.  The flea market still exist, but it is unfortunately not a safe place to go anymore.  Random drunken shootings happen almost weekly and it is ill advised to even drive by it on the weekends.

The children that I teach talk about Xboxes and Nintendos.  They love computers.  If I allowed it, they would happily spend several hours on the computer playing games – even math games.  My nieces could, if they they were allowed, spend hours flipping through pictures on my phone or pressing icons on an ipad.  Their attention utterly absorbed by the machine in front of them, the world around them disappears.
 
There is a lot to be said for technology.  It brings the collective knowledge of humankind to our fingertips.  It makes sharing of information fast and efficient.  It gives us the ability to create virtual spaces in which to interact with people whom we would have normally never known existed – people from different countries and cultures and socioeconomic levels.  A lot can also be said for putting down the technology every once in a while and experiencing life as it glides past and then inexorably disappears.