Frontline recently aired the documentary Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier: a look at how the world, with a focus on the current generation, has become addicted to advancing technology. The idea came from award-winning producer Rachel Dretzin, while commentator Douglas Rushkoff came along for the ride.
The documentary focused on social media, gaming, and a revolution in virtual reality. It is obvious that the world today is bombarded with digital media and this presentation, more than anything, showed a lot of issues with this and tended to lean towards the negative and focused on many people’s fears for the digital age. There also seemed to be a war going on between Generation X and Generation Y, though the latter did not seem too concerned with this. Most of Generation Y were presented as drones or auto-pilot avatars while our previous generation had most of the say and voiced quite a few opinions that did not seem to have much research behind it. This is not to say that the show was not well put together – it was interesting and made everyone aware of technology many of us may not have known was out there.
Forms of social media have been around for a lot longer than we realize. They were originally just blogs until Facebook revolutionized the entire concept, basically making it a map of who you are to other people and who they are to you. The group of people speaking for the show see social media as a distraction and a lack of connection. Today’s generation, according to them, is lost, distracted, and completely unaware and unmotivated. This is the fault of our over-abundance of social media. Another issue they show focused on in this area was multitasking. Multitasking was once what Generation X believed to be an extremely lucrative skill, it is now considered to be more like a trait of the constantly distracted who strive to get everything done but somehow never get anything done. At one point, they showed an interview with a doctor who was showing two different diagrams of the brain – the brain while reading a book, and the brain while multitasking online. The color red on the pale brain seemed to symbolize activity. The brain while reading had significantly less activity than the brain while multitasking online. The interviewer was stunned at this and did not understand how it was possible to use so little of your brain while reading – the doctor’s reply was that all that brain activity was not necessarily a good thing, they never elaborated on why – I found this strange and almost a manipulation, to somehow confuse the easily convinced that multitasking = a lot of brain activity = negative.
The issue of multitasking among Generation Y turned into the discussion about gaming addiction. Someone constantly attached to a video game or computer game is, of course, not fun for anyone but the person with the “addiction”. However, this has become a very serious issue, according to the documentary. One family they interviewed was a mother and her son, the boy was probably around 12 or 13 years old and all he wanted to do was play computer games. The mother was deeply upset about this and sent her son to a gaming rehab. I honestly do not know what is more ridiculous: gaming addiction or gaming rehab. We have all seen the World of Warcraft YouTube freakouts, and while they are strange, and quite funny those issues have nothing to do with a game. I spent a good chunk of my sophomore year of college playing Sims 2 but that eventually passed and I didn’t need the gaming version of Dr. Drew to snap me out of it.
Finally, the show discussed virtual reality today. I found this extremely interesting and surprised that I didn’t see this coming. According to the show, companies have set up video conferencing where the staff members are avatars. It is set up like a video game and the avatars have a meeting space online and use headsets to talk. The conferencing was extremely advanced just like a video game and the graphics were wonderful. They were making a case of how wrong this was and had a sad moment where they walked through an empty building because everyone was working from home, video conferencing. This seemed very unlikely. The companies seemed very pleased with this technology and their employees were happy. One company used the virtual conferencing even though they were sitting right across from the person and they refused to have cubicles, they enjoyed the open workspace. This was very positive to me, and kind of a neat way to stay motivated at work and to have fun.
Overall, the documentary was interesting but the message seemed one-sided and fear-driven. Being a part of the infamous Generation Y, it is no wonder that I am somewhat offended but more than anything, I am saddened that so many just don’t see what we can do, what we have done, and the incredible amount of intelligence and creativity. It is true, we are not rioting in the streets or marching for the war to end – instead, we rebel through blogging or inventing something new. Most of my generation finds what is happening in the world downright melodramatic, and I think we are the ones who will gain a balance, become more independent, and be more understanding. I am extremely proud of my generation. The one thing that does scare me is that we may become very dependent on our technology and this may be our problem that the next generation has to fix.