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The lowdown on high-tech

Photocopying net-cynicism in a wired world

Oct 14, 1999: Recently my wife and I gave a talk to ten 18 and 19-year-olds on why the Internet is important and how it's going to impact their lives.

But the only thing we heard was "no time", "too busy with schoolwork", "cybercafe so far", "I can't afford it", "I tried to get on but it was so slow", "my friend said don't buy PC because it'll go obsolete".

The kids seemed frank with their answers, but what was alarming was they saw it as something they could live without - at least for now. The Internet is just a plaything, a toy for mindless chatting, it has no value to their immediate priority which is - "getting through my exams."

As parents, and teachers and adults we are guilty of having passed down the one nagging message that all our parents and teachers and adults were good at doing - "if you don't get through your exams, you can't survive!".

That fear - valid as it was in our time - has forced a generation to believe that "the system" is everything. It is a rite of passage. The one true path. The ONLY way.

In so doing we are creating an exact copy of us - a generation of routine-entrenched, nine-to-five automatons with the creativity of a tollbooth ticket dispenser.

The sad truth is in the Internet-dependent and -driven world of tomorrow it is not 9-to-5, but 24/7 that counts. The information derived from exams will be as useful to a young adult entering the new working environment as an expired ticket - he may have it, but the train has already left the station.

Our education system can only be described as an archaic system imposed by a dinosaur called "Governmentaurus" to keep the status quo and churn out cogs in the wheel of a lumbering machine going to nowhere. Even as sweeping changes are empowering kids elsewhere in the world, we are sitting around arguing about whether putting Astro in schools will derive any benefit at all.

We berate endlessly about how the Internet is full of lies and pornography and malicious hackers and bombmaking tools - and worry about rising phonebills. No wonder our kids are less than enthusiastic.

We are convinced that that this "toy" must be kept away from them and the longer we can hold it off - by any means necessary - the better. We live in the comfort that Information is a beast that comes with the label "To be handled by adults only."

We argue that our soon-to-be defunct selves managed fine without the Internet. Our income and value to the world was derived through the sweat of mind-numbing rote-learning in the pursuit of a piece of paper that determined our status in life.

What we couldn't get from the paper, we got through back-alley gossiping, office politicking and boardroom shenanigans - trading "inside information" - not all that "data" via "the machine."

And so we have passed this cynical view that the Internet equates to "the machine" and "no machine got daddy or mummy where he/she is today!"

In reply, listen to what one radical headmaster friend of ours says: "You can avoid computers but you cannot avoid information."

That information is coming down that pipe like never before. And we believe even trickling it out to our kids will do more harm than good?

While kids elsewhere are agile swimmers in the torrent of the information sea and exploring its murky bottoms and setting up hyperlinked islands of their own design on the surface, we sit back as if to say: "You don't need to know how to swim to live in this world".

Well, welcome to your drowning.

If your kids have a "healthy" disregard for the net - passed on to them by your apathy and false convictions - I can guarantee that they will soon find themselves as roadkills on the superhighway of life.

Or perhaps they may just survive and enjoy fruitful and fulfilling lives as tollbooth ticket dispensers. That is, if we still need them.

>>>Julian Matthews<<<