Sparked by the recent Tron movie, i started thinking about the hyper-evolved 1980′s environment which is “The Grid”. Couple this with an interesting podcast discussion i was listening to about how different generations are interested in different things, and i find myself with something to post.
Think back to when you were in your teens. What was the cool new thing at the time? For my generation, it was home computers. Sure, computers had been around for decades as big giant mainframes and house-sized computers in universities and government buildings. But it wasn’t really until the early 80′s that they became accessible to the masses through the likes of Atari, Amiga, and Commodore. They were magical things. The world suddenly opened up to me. I had this little box that i could control. I could play pixelated games in 4 colors. I could write papers and design ascii-art banners and send them to a dot matrix printer. It made little bleep sounds. And the best part? I could write my own programs to do anything i could imagine (well … limited to the sparse programming materials i could find at the time).
The home computer was a wonder. To my parents it was a little scary. They didn’t quite know what to do with it. They coped, but it’s never really been a core part of their lives. Now let’s rewind a generation. What’s the cool thing when my parents were growing up? Televisions in every home? They probably thought that was the coolest thing ever. To me, a tv is just a tv. It’s always been there. No big deal. I use it, i like it, but it doesn’t inspire me.
Rewind further. Radio. You can actually hear what someone is saying hundreds or perhaps even thousands of miles away. At the same time as other people all around the country! They’re talking TO YOU. Telling funny stories, playing old time music. But to me (and to my parents i’d imagine), it’s just a radio. You use it, it’s there. Certainly not awe-inspiring like it was to the generation when it first came out. We can go further back, but i think you get the idea.
Let’s instead move forward a bit. My kids. They have computers. All around them. I’ve got phones that are far more powerful than any computer i had growing up. My kids have them, they use them, they’re convenient. But so what? They’re just things. They don’t inspire awe or imagination. They are inspired by other things (although i haven’t quite figured out what it is yet. Smart phones, music players, the internet, mmorpg’s, youtube, facebook, 3d movies)?
There is no “grid” for them. Which is why Tron is probably just another movie to people from before or after my generation. Sure, it’s got amazing special effects. The soundtrack rocks. But the concept of programs that look and act like us living inside of a virtual city? To me, it was something cool to ponder and imagine. Could it really happen? To my kids … ehh. They don’t have the context of wonder that i had back in the early 80′s when PC’s were just coming into their own and the grid was an exciting and revolutionary idea. And it makes me a little sad. And also a little curious and excited to see what the next revolutionary awe-inspiring thing will be.