Elevators and Other Technology

by Ghani Kunto

When I was around 5 years old, my grandfather took me to his office.  He said he had something special to show me.  This was sometime in 1986, in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Upon arriving at the lobby of his office building, we entered a small compartment with metal sliding doors.  The doors closed, the compartment lightly rumbled, the floor felt as if it was moving up, and a few seconds later, the doors opened, revealing the 5th floor of the building.

“That was an elevator!” my grandfather said with a beaming smile.  The building was one of the first in the country to have such a contraption, and he was proud to take the first born of his first born in one.

Yet, I was not amazed.

Perhaps it just took more to impress a child.  Though I had never been on an elevator before that, the machinery held no sense of mystery.  Someone pressed a button, the box we were in moved up, and of course we’d be at a higher floor. What’s so special about that?

If my gramps had a sword that could turn him into He-Man (by the power of Greyskull, of course), then maybe I’d be impressed.

As children, we took in the world around us with a heightened sense of curiosity.  We don’t immediately attach meaning or emotions to the information input.  Not unless the input triggered something that’s already hard-wired to our instincts (loud noises, painful stimuli, etc).  We don’t get impressed, or get disgusted, or look down upon our surroundings.  We just take everything in.

Then something happened to/with our minds.

Somehow we develop different defaults to respond to different types of information.  Take technology for example.  Some of us welcome new technology, adapting and embracing new innovations without a second thought.  Some of view new techs with suspicion, judge them with old and increasingly irrelevant criteria and values, harshly critique those who use them, warn others of the negative changes that will inevitably follow, and wish for a time “when the world was simpler.”

Just watch, while Twitter launches with much fanfare in Japan, within the next few weeks there will be articles in Japanese newspapers and magazine that’ll talk about how Twitter shortens the average Japanese’s attention span, just like how MTV supposedly did for my generation.

Or maybe not.  Maybe all the articles will gush about it.  Perhaps they’ll all talk about it’s like a haiku.

With my exposure with media folks, this is very unlikely.

The mild xenophobic tendencies are by no means a new phenomenon.  Even an invention like writing had is opponents.  Socrates once mentioned about writing, “[it] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.”

The different thinking defaults we use do not have a connection to which generation we belong.  It is more likely to depend on our ages.  While as a young child we take in everything with unbound curiosity, as we get older we get more and more critical.  As we add trillions of new information into our heads, being critical perhaps helps our mind organizes all that many information, and as a result we get emotions.

So is that why older folks seem to like to criticize the younger generation’s dependency on mobile telecommunications?

I don’t know.

In my case, I think my days of blindly criticizing those who adopt “the new hot thing” are over.  I used to be so bad at that.  Yes, I too was one of those who would be quick to belittle new technology, and not because I had more information that needed organizing in my head.

Actually, was quite quick to belittle anything new that I don’t immediately understand.

I think I was hyper-critical just because I was a bit of a dick.

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