Convergence: when old and new media types meet
On the drive over to Winter Park, where they have a bike race, the three teenagers sleep. Arriving, they hoover up lunch, then ride their bikes, and study the course.
When the three — one aged 15 and two 17 — return to the rental condo in late afternoon, Tanner picks up his iPhone and headset, and heads to the fitness center to lift weights. The other two rag him ruthlessly, at first for lifting on a race weekend, and then, conversely, for not staying longer.
Roy (my son) heckles, “That was a good 10-minute workout.”
As the three move about, organizing their gear, all wear headphones, taking them on and off to produce scraps of conversation. Tanner keeps one earpad over one ear and the other against his head, behind his ear.
In the morning, all listen to music again, and Tyler plays video of bike races on his laptop. In conversation, they throw around lyrics, quote films and shows, and refer offhandedly to video games.
Is technology stifling communication? It isn’t evident here: being teenage males, they argue vociferously over information, opinions, who gets what space in the condo, and who watches what (the television show one wants to watch versus the online show two want to see) in our common area.
I am reading a textbook, Media Now, for a course I am to teach about the history of media and how old and new genres are interacting in complex and proliferating ways. I trail, of course, miles behind these boys. Yes, I have a computer and iPhone at hand, so I check email and get to work, haltingly, at setting up my course using online discussion posts and assignments. I’ve been in journalism for decades, but marvel at today’s advances and convergence: the audiovisuals, the podcasts and blogosphere, the interactivity with which news and even novels are written.
One textbook chapter is about video games. Video games? I had protested, suggesting we skip that chapter, but my advisor blinked at me and explained what a huge learning tool video games have become, even used in training the military for wartime; games hold young trainees’ attention particularly well. Googling around, I read about how often surgery is taught by interactive video these days, with concurrent diminishing use of animals as research subjects. Early this year hundreds of chimpanzees were released from a research center, bounding out to enjoy retirement in a leafy sanctuary.
I ask the boys about favored games.
“How many girls play that?” I wonder about one, which involves gunfire.
“None,” the three say.
“Girls don’t like shooting people,” one adds.
“Girls play Dance Dance Revolution,” Tyler offers. “They put their feet in these squares and learn dance moves.”
One night Dylan, a friend from their bike team, and his family come over for dinner. I see the headphones come out, think of asking the boys to remove them, but realize Dylan is sharing a set. All four are watching a biking video together.
Then they all go downstairs to the pool to go swimming. I guess I can’t say I am seeing technology promote a sedentary lifestyle.
At one point in the weekend, I ask the boys if it bothers them that we are all in the same room but not talking. No one replies.
“We’re just all using technology,” I say.
“Yeah,” says Tanner. “It’s awesome. I like technology.”
Well, they’ll need to use it to be productive citizens. It may employ them. In today’s information society, three-fifths of our population work in info production.
On Sunday, I hike up the mountain and watch the bike race, which finishes at a lodge. Near the six-foot-tall results screen, a dozen boys gather and animatedly discuss the course and their foibles, then scatter to ride all afternoon.
On the drive home, our crew stops at a Dairy Delite, where the boys, starving as usual, jostle each other in line. When I go across the roadway to a store, the two other older ones trick Tyler, the youngest, by moving our truck there without him. Tyler just shakes his head wearily, and crosses after them.
Resuming the drive, I say, “Hey, take your headphones off. I want to talk to you. I drove you all this way.” They dutifully comply, but within five minutes their eyes close, and they sleep all the way home.
— “Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at email@example.com.
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