Best of the Past: Immersive Age vs Information Age

January 26, 2008

[March 22, 2006 – Foursides blog]

I believe that the world has taken a great shift away from the way it behaved even five years ago. I’m calling it the Immersive Age and here is the story of why:

Last summer, a trend started to appear with myself and my interactions with a lot of people of my generation (18-30). There seems to be a pattern of people going to school and coming out without a clear sense of direction for their lives. We finish a University degree and a few years later are wondering why we can’t find work in that field and/or why our interest in that field has diminished greatly. The most common words describing their situations are “lost” and “confused.” This generation isn’t satisfied doing a trade (generally) and wants to accomplish more- on a larger scale. We no longer want to touch just our local community now; we want the world.

But there’s a problem. Taking a hold of the world is no easy thing, and we feel saddened by our realities of living in small cities in the middle of nowhere (it wouldn’t surprise me at all if these feelings were echoed in Europe, Asia, etc). We want to help, but don’t have the means to at the beginning. It’s a struggle to get to the top of anything for us, and we can’t find any help anywhere. We turn on the television to watch the news and just see more pain in the world. It inspires us to help those countries and cities more, but it doesn’t really tell us how to do it.

Much is written of the MTV generation having short attention spans, echoed by the increase of cases of ADHD (I’m skeptical that this is the case). But I’ve only read literature on possible solutions to this “problem.” No one seems to discuss the reasons why we may be like this. The obvious reasons are how we’re growing up with the internet and cable television, so we have lots of options for our attention and can get bored easily. This is just the bottom of the cake, though.

Our generation has not only grown up with a hundred cable channels and the internet. Experiencing these forms of media are no longer restricted to “the boxes.” We don’t need a television to watch tv, we don’t need a desktop computer to logon to the internet, or a radio to listen to the radio. Everything has exploded out of those restrictive spaces and has taken over most of the civilized world. There is no escape from all of this now. It’s everywhere you can imagine and expanding at such a pace, that it’s going to be overtaking the human skin in this century no doubt.

This way of living is different from what was called the Information Age. Ten years ago, maybe even five, if we wanted to find something out (say a sports score) we pretty much only had a few basic options: turn on the tv to ESPN, tune into the news on the radio at the top of the hour, log onto the internet (if we were lucky) by sitting down at our computers, phoning a friend (from home, school, work), or talk with someone in person. Otherwise, you have to wait until later that day for SportsCentre, the news, buy a newspaper the next day, etc. There was no instant access like we know of it today.

Today, we can still do all of the above, but we can also check on our cellphones, PDAs connected to the internet, laptops/tablet PCs connected to a WiFi connection or any ethernet connection, we can use our cellphones to call people instantly or IM/text message them. We have better portable sattelite radios to tune into sports specific shows anywhere on the planet, or tune into them in our vehicles if we’ve upgraded them. There’s probably other options that I’m missing, but hopefully my point gets across. Access to information isn’t a chore to find an access point (desktop computer, tv, radio), it’s everywhere we look.

In the Immersive Age, information is always there for us, and the amount of information is behaving like a volcano. It blows up daily with new events, new speeches, new drama with reality tv, blogs, hundreds of tv stations, etc. That lava cools off almost instantly in some cases, then another layer is tossed onto it a moment later, an hour later, a day later, etc. The problem for my generation is not that we’re sitting on some island in the middle of a vast ocean surrounded by all this information; it’s that we’re standing beside the volcano while it heaves lava at us. The more we dodge, the more comes at us.

Human beings have evolved to recognize the important information instantly so we avoid death, disease, etc. and aim for survival. But when has a human being had to sift through such mountains of information to collect the important stuff? Unless we were a President, King, military leader, probably never. That’s the challenge my generation faces. Not only do we have to recognize everything being thrown at us, ingest everything that is important, but we also have to decide how to respond all while more stuff is being thrown at us.

The techniques of channel surfing, instant messaging, and browsing the web quickly are all tools that the youth have adopted quickly to battle this new world. It’s our only escape while still having some connection to other humans or information without completely tuning everything out and settling for reading, writing, or listening to music.

Returning to the intial problem I mentioned, my generation is faced with the challenge of knowing that the entire world is right there for us to touch, but we can only touch it virtually and not physically. We feel the pain but can’t heal it, and we’re sent reminders of the sad things happening frequently. We wade through all sorts of mixed messages, and try to gather our thoughts, but keep getting interrupted. We seem to thrive in those interruptions, though, and go down that path to only find ourselves more confused and lost than when we entered it.

Such is life in the Immersive Age. We can escape, but it only sets us further back and out of touch with the world. And if there’s one thing about my generation, we don’t like being out of touch with anything. We must be in the know and can’t survive long without some sort of contact and new information being exchanged.

And this Immersive Age is just beginning, and will grow much stronger in the next ten or twenty years until the new age of living occurs.

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