2010-08-26 / Sam Bari

Time still flies, but at warp speed

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

The older we get, the faster time flies. Without doubt, that fact is diffi cult to dispute. At my age, time is beyond flight; it travels at warp speed.

Occasionally, I write about some of the things my son and grandchildren take for granted, like 500-station cable TV networks, computer play stations and interplanetary exploration via remotely controlled rocket ships and robots.

I compare that to life when I was a child, when computers were nonexistent. I wrote my homework in cursive, and calculators were yet to be invented, let alone permitted in classrooms.

Apparently, since 1998, Professors Tom McBride, Ron Nief and William Keefer, all employees of Beloit College in Beloit, Wis., have been writing about similar things in their “Beloit College Mindset List.”

This is an annually published list that compiles the mindset of students in the graduating class of any given year with sometimes amusing, often shocking, and always surprising facts that most of us haven’t taken the time to recognize.

For instance, according to the Beloit Mindset List, the class of 2014 has the following in common: Few know how to write in cursive; email is just too slow and they rarely, if ever, use snail mail. They don’t know that John McEnroe played professional tennis, and they recognize Clint Eastwood as a sensitive director rather than Dirty Harry.

These kids believe that DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed. The shocker that will hit home with most adults is that the graduating college class of 2014 never used a computer without a CD-ROM disk drive.

Czechoslovakia only existed in a history book for these kids. Their first contact with Michelangelo was as a computer virus, the list says.

These facts make us look at history with a different perspective. Not even a century ago, the machine gun would have been considered a weapon of mass destruction. It was invented in 1914 and it took four people to operate it.

Today, people go to war worrying about being vaporized by a nuclear bomb, being killed instantly with remotely controlled explosive devices or dying from the horrors of bio-chemical warfare.

Nonetheless, the people in 1914 were just as frightened of the machine gun as those born in the nuclear age are afraid of the latest ways that humans can kill their own kind.

Many criticize the advances in technology as detrimental to the education of students today. I disagree. Students today learn differently. They have to assimilate much more information than their counterparts did in past generations.

For starters, they must learn an additional half-century of history. When I was in school, John F. Kennedy’s presidential election was a current event.

Those who say that today’s fifthgrade students couldn’t pass a fifthgrade exam from two generations ago may be correct. Today’s student might not pass, but they would probably answer some, if not most of the questions.

However, a fifth-grade student from two generations ago wouldn’t stand a chance in today’s classroom. They wouldn’t be able to take the exam because they would have zero computer skills. They wouldn’t even know how to operate the simplest of calculators.

Many credit Jules Verne with being the first of the science fiction writers – although the term “science fiction” was not a recognized genre when he wrote “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” in the 1860s, and “Around the World in Eighty Days” in 1870.

Critics, at that time, considered Verne’s extraordinary tales as products of an overactive imagination. Today, nearly everything in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Around the World in Eighty Days” is old technology.

Although Verne was not taken seriously as a visionary during his lifetime, he cultivated and developed a new school of thought that is highly revered in today’s world.

The scientific community now looks to sci-fi and fantasy writers for inspiration. Nothing is considered folly if it has purpose.

Even the technology for the invisibility cloak introduced by J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter series of books and movies is a reality because of Rowling’s imagination.

As our freedoms continue to shrink, the one thing legislators will never be able to take away or control is our imagination.

I am happy to say that today’s generation is progressing just fine. They are using their vivid imaginations at warp speed as they contend with life in a system they can’t understand.

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