Sep 9, 2008

Field of Dreams


So we rented Field of Dreams with the kids the other night and it struck me that while the actors and settings themselves did not appear in any way dated (e.g. the clothes and hairstyles, Kevin Costner and Amy Madigan were wearing would look perfectly at home in 2008,) the complete lack of any of what we regard as modern “necessities” gave the movie the air of a period drama.

It was only 1989. A year that most you reading this blog had already been born. Yet there were no cell phones. No internet. In one key scene, Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones can only keep in touch with their families by calling them from a pay telephone. With a dial on it. My kids stared at it and wondered “what’s that?”

While we talk about things like “digital natives” and all, we can’t really fathom what it’s like to come of age at a time when all this isn’t new anymore. Or how rapidly the world and the way we act in it has changed. My kids (and they are not unique) are somewhat wigged out when we visit their grandparents who do not own DVRs. The younger one, in particular, does not quite get why Grandma can’t just pause the TV or call up the shows she want to watch when she wants to watch them.

And so they didn't quite get why Costner didn’t just call his wife on his cell phone to tell her where he was. Or at the very least just text her. The microfilm scene was also a complete mystery: their world is neatly indexed, PDF’d and fully searchable online.

But the gap is much greater than that, for their generation doesn’t see media as being all that separate. Dora the Explorer lives in the computer as a 30 minute iTunes video, a website, a DVD, some songs on iTunes or Songza and a dozen or so clips up on YouTube. There’s no line between them, no sense that they are different, even though some are “hot mediums” and others “cool;” some interactive and some passive. It doesn't seem very important when they all seem to come from the same place.

We adults too, are learning to think like that, albeit a bit more gradually. And yet despite our hesitation, the New York Times is now a newspaper that arrives on the porch in the morning, a button on our Blackberries and iPhones that delivers portable news updates and a website that fleshes out, via charts, graphics and even videos, the stories we started reading in the newspaper that morning. And yet it is, in a way we haven’t fully come to terms with, all still the New York Times.

That this change has come about in less than 19 years is simply unparalleled. Living with it, day to day, it’s sometimes hard for us to step outside and realize the magnitude of it all. Until something like Field of Dreams comes along and knocks us for a loop and it all comes into perspective.

What’s more amazing is that we’re nowhere near the end of this technological revolution: we may in fact just be at the very beginning of it. All we can do is continue to adapt and just hold on for the ride.

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