We always hear about how children “today” are too rude, oppositional, and too informed on subjects that they shouldn’t even be aware of. And the fact of the matter is, children today are not the same as the children of the past. But it is not necessarily that parents are doing anything wrong. The fact of the matter is children began changing because of Samuel Morse, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and a few others who “played with fire” so to speak. I am sure you have heard of the last two individuals, but some may not be sure why the name Samuel Morse is vaguely familiar.
Samuel Morse basically developed the telegraph code that revolutionized communication across distances. Now there were a few individuals who had put in place a few of the items that Morse needed, but he put it all together in 1843, getting Congress to buy into funding the wires across America to allow almost instantaneous communication from coast to coast. That meant that information which in the past took weeks or months to make it to the farthest regions of the country, now could be known by the next day. This did not give the people in power time to put their spin on it first in order to control their constituents. People began thinking more outside of the box, and asking questions that made others uneasy. And of course that then became a model for children to learn how to function in society.
Well, Morse’s work interested Alexander Graham Bell, who then began working with John Watson for a means of sending sound in the form of voices rather than clicks and clacks through electrical wires. They accomplished this in 1887, which opened up another can of worms of knowledge and discontent. People could now talk freely, making plans and criticizing those in charge. And again, the children watched and learned.
About 10 years before Bell and Watson had their first phone conversation, Thomas Edison developed the phonograph, after improving on some other inventors’ ideas. This led to the ability of people to hear music that they might never have heard of before, as well as speakers. Some of their messages were radical, but were being distributed more widely than they could have been if the speaker always had to make personal appearances. And again, people began to question the status quo and the children learned that this was okay. From the phonograph, the entire fiberoptics system of today developed, which has allowed messages to go worldwide.
The radio was in its infancy in the 1890’s when Marconi showed that radio communication was feasible. It was not until 1920 that the first commercial radio station started. Now messages could be relayed to large groups of individuals at one time. And as music with the phonograph improved, new and controversial music made its way into our homes and our children. So began Rock and Roll!
Television was born in the 1920’s thanks to the work of the above inventors (rabble rousers!). The first station was opened in Schenectady, New York in 1928. In 1940 the first TV commercial was aired and with it, the beginning of our children begging that they had to have the latest cereal and toy because the TV said so. They also learned of wars and world disasters almost as fast as they were occurring, leading to anxiousness, fear, and at times hopelessness. Add to that the constant portrayal of successful peers who had everything, including the most beautiful body with no zits.
Now movies came into being in the late 1890’s due to the trouble making of Louis Lumiere from France, who developed the motion picture camera. And good old Edison stuck his nose in and invented the projector that could run the movie for all to see. So now, people could see and experience worlds that they may never even have heard of, much less been to. We all know what questionable content our children were exposed to from this and more when it was incorporated into the television. Children now had an entirely new group of adults and kids to learn from for behavior, speech and action.
Now the computer has been blamed for much of what we feel is wrong with the world today, but as you can see, there were many individuals who upset the norm long before the computer as we know it came to be. But the computer is older than many of us realize. The first programmable computer was developed by Konrad Zuse in 1941, based on the work of Turing in 1936. In WWII England had Colossus to break the German code. After WWII the US saw ENIAC, quickly followed by UNIVAC and then in 1951 the start of the IBM computers. But it wasn’t until 1964 that ARPANET was born, which was the start of the Internet. So basically the Internet is a child of the Baby Boomer Generation, although it was taken over by their children and grandchildren after the first home PC became available in 1981 (IBM not Apple, which came out with the MAC in 1984). And of course with the release of the Internet to the masses, nothing is secret or sacred in our world anymore.
So what have we learned from this? Basically, once technology was introduced into the world, children as nonvocal, compliant servants disappeared. In their place individuals who felt a need to understand “why” before doing anything were born. So get on the Internet and look up with answers to all of their “why” questions if you don’t know but it is too late to put the genie back in the bottle. We need to communicate with our children, not just allow them to listen to others.