Lost in cyberspace

Around Town • AMY ROSEN

Sometimes I feel as if I am hanging by the tips of my fingers trying to keep up with technology in the 21st century. I would like to think I am pretty savvy, but who can keep up with all of the new developments? My 15-year-old son and his friends, that’s who.

My son has to be totally connected on multiple levels at all times. He is a master at multitasking. He is never bored because he hangs out with his friends on a constant basis, even when no one is around. It all started with a video game system called Xbox 360. This game enables players to compete with each other online while communicating verbally. He wears a headset that reminds me of Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine character, the switchboard operator.

I was amazed that this conferencing video game not only replaced systems that he had to have in the past — items that I waited on line (not online) for at dawn in the freezing cold for several days to get for him.

When my son is not hooked into his game, he’s got headphones in his ears listening to downloaded music on an MP3 player or texting people on a cell phone. When I talk to him in the car he very often does not answer because he’s plugged in, so I have to tap him.

When we went on vacation this past summer, I realized his friends had come along, too. I heard my son talking to someone, but all I saw was a laptop. He said he was hanging out with his friends and invited me to say hello. Through the magic of computers and the Internet and something called ooVoo, I could see them and they could see me.

This same video conferencing has destroyed my privacy. Now when I go to my son’s room to talk to him, I’m paranoid. I whisper and ask him if anyone else is in the room with us before I speak. They could be on the video game or on the computer.

Last week I went into his room in my pajamas, but my son wasn’t there. I started to walk in and soon realized I was not alone. I saw one of his friends sitting on the screen looking around and waiting for my son to return. I backed out slowly and left the room.

Having grown up among the first generation to have TV in my home from birth, I can relate to having to be entertained at all times, but technology has improved on that as well.

I have to admit I am addicted to my DVR. I can watch or record all of my favorite programs and pause them when someone in my family wants my attention. I then enjoy scrolling past the commercials and find myself trying to do so even when I am watching the show live.

When there is nothing good on television, the Internet picks up the slack with access to anything in the world from old TV programs to YouTube videos of people we may or may not know. My son and his friends even make their own music videos.

I have to admit I have grown quite fond of my amazing little phone that can receive emails and text messages, play music, and access the Internet in addition to receiving calls. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I have to check my phone every time it summons me.

Much like my kids, texting and emailing has become my preferred form of communication when I can’t be with a person. Sometimes it is just easier to text my kids even when we are in the same house (“Dinner is ready,” “Go to bed,” “Take out the trash”), but they make fun of me because although I abbreviate at times because of space limitations, I am careful to spell correctly and to use punctuation whenever possible.

These innovations have been around for a while, but it took me a long time to embrace them for reasons that include lack of technological ability and wanting to hold on to the comforting ways of my past. I finally understandwhymy grandmother never gave up the dial phone in her kitchen.

As technology continues to change the world, the newest generation of kids have never owned a record or tape, seen a black and white TV, and may soon not even need to use paperback books, which can now be read online or on a portable viewer. These technologies may save trees and inspire children to read more, but I’m not ready to convert yet. I still love reading a lightweight object I can carry around without worrying about running out of power. I stare at a computer screen all day at work; I don’t want to do that when I relax as well.

For that matter, I still even like to listen to my record collection on occasion, so I guess I’m somewhere in limbo as to how I feel about all of these changes.

Although these new innovations are amazing and quite enjoyable in many ways, I fear they are contributing to the downfall of our economy and society in many ways. Internet services and online shopping are eliminating the need for clients to frequent stores, leaving many shopping centers with vacancies.

And, as if driving while talking on the phone isn’t bad enough, driving while texting has become a problem as well. (My friend told me she saw her child’s bus driver texting and went nuts, rightfully so.)

Children have to remember not to write LOL on homework assignments. Can they even spell correctly? Will they ever be able to communicate face to face with people in social and business situations? Is being plugged in affecting their hearing?

The Internet, while a wonderful tool in so many ways, scares me a bit. It reminds me of the Wild West, without any formal rules and regulations. On the Internet people can anonymously bully and defame the good reputation of others with words and inappropriate photos. Such items can be lost in cyberspace for years and resurface when least expected to wreak havoc.

There is no telling what the future will bring, as change is inevitable and we have to take the good with the bad. As technology advances, I still await the advent of inventions that were featured in futuristic shows like “The Jetsons” and “Lost in Space.” If a robot that does all of my housework and flying cars are around the corner, count me in, but we have to tread carefully because there might be “Danger, Will Robinson” just ahead.

Amy Rosen is a Greater Media Newspapers staff writer.