I remember during 199x when I was confronted by a teacher about the use of a computer as an everyday hobby and a girl in the class asked me how many hours per day do I use it. I didn't really kept a record of use but it wasn't much since we were pupils and I couldn't just sit in front of a computer all day in the strict family environment I have been living. Well, I estimated and said about 3 hours per day (I am preety sure it was quite much less for the reasons I just mentioned) and she shouted "Wow! Isn't that too much?" (Of course it was a first impression from a person who didn't even found necessary the use of a computer at all those days). During that moment I spent part of my time in programming, among playing games or using other software. It was quite a creative time and I still had hours left to do other activities. Still, what I was doing then was considered extreme, think that very few of us had a computer at those times and some hadn't ever used one ever in their lifes. It wasn't common. Being a computer geek was feeling like messing with the electronics of your fridge for hours. They'd say, the function of a fridge is not studying it, but only providing the necessities in life. Who does that?
I see the irony when I am examining modern life. I will start with the image of the internet cafe stores full of people playing WOW or watching their facebook profiles 24hours long (an image that is not present in some other countries I have travelled so far because net cafe are different there than here in Greece, but substitue "net cafe" for "from their homes"). Those people are "worse" than what I did back in the past and yet playing MMORPGs or being active on facebook is considered "in" today. It is amazing how things have changed! Today I spend way more hours in my gaming, programming and other computer activities at home than in the past, yet nobody cares because everybody is doing it in their homes or the net cafe stores and everybody is discussing about it. It could be even considered "out" if you don't have an account on facebook. I hear some stories of people failing to meet their friends on a particular day because they ommited reading the meeting announcement in facebook and so they missed it. Compare these two different times together and wonder how my own activities were extremely abnormal in the past yet now I am overshadowed by more extreme net-cafe MMORPG lurkers or people who want to check their facebook account wherever they are. You don't understand the absurdity of it and neither do I because these things are also "normal" for us today because we got used to them.
I imagine in the future that there will be Virtual Reality machines, more like plugging your brain into electrodes and stuff sending you signals, letting you live (dream) an alternative reality while being in a coma-like state for weeks, battling monsters in another plane of existence and when something important has happened in real reality (your house being bombed or your sister got married lol :), your mother will send you some kind of mail through the system that will come in the virtual world as a fairy bringing you a message from the earthly plane of existence or something so that you reply to your earth people whether they disconnect you or not yet. Describe such a vision of the future to anyone these day, will there be even a single person that will say this could be considered "normal" in the future? Yet it could be! Even this thing! Given some time, it could be like what is facebook and WoW today. And some people in the future would look back and say, how simple were the things back in the times of the old world wide web? How more mature?
Do you understand the analogy? This is how I think about these things. The most extreme things today might be considered normal tomorrow. Also, I don't see this shift as a decline of the youth, socialization, society or whatever. I like to see it as an evolution. If these trends of the new generations are really "bad" then they would hit back like a boomerang and maybe people would wake up and evolve. But the change wouldn't be necessary a backtrack to the older times but an evolution of what we already have. There is no meaning to look back or forward and say that things were better or are getting worse when we are part of this evolution. If the people really thought that WoW or facebook is "abnormal" or "evil" then they would just have to unsubscribe from it. But people want this. If it makes them more sad than happy then they will learn and change some of their habits. Nobody else needs to tell them. I don't believe in these absolutes of "bad" or "good", "normal" or not.
I can't wait the time when those virtual coma brain machines will become a reality. I'd like to observe the reactions from people and how the youth might adapt to such environments as if nothing is wrong. I like to think that even the most extreme could be considered a trend in future times. I'd love to see the controversy. It's gonna be fun! :)
p.s. This post was inspired by another in anisixos blog which criticizes the classic saying "the old times were better", though it's not specifically focused on computers and also is written in greek.