Preserving culture in a technological environment
I belong to the "Ice Age" generation. When I was a child there was no refrigerator in our home. We had an icebox. We used to carry ice blocks in a Utah cloth up to the third floor where we lived. My generation didn't grow up with such developed technologies as today's youngsters. A telephone was a rare thing and a telephone conversation was a happening.
When I was growing up even a telephone line was hard to get. One had to wait for years to get one. When we were Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah we usually got a watch. My four-year-old grandchild has a few watches. Only those who were rich, in those days, could afford a transistor radio. I got one the other day for buying a four-liter Coca-Cola bottle.
I watched television for the first time at age 25 when I arrived in the US. I've yet to master how to program a VCR and I became acquainted with a PC only 10 years ago.
The tremendous technological changes that flooded our lives in the last 50 or 60 years were quick and significant. When a new technology, especially one that has to do with communications, becomes widespread it brings about changes in tools, in ways of thinking, in social processes and in social structures. The "invasion" of computers into our lives opens up new possibilities and gives room to social mobility.
Computer usage and mastery is mainly in the hands of the young generation, whose status in society has undergone much change with the introduction of the new technologies. The technological revolution, so it seems, has passed over the older members in our society. Whereas the seniors sometimes seem to be living in a waste land as far as technology is concerned, the young ones seem to be born holding the "mouse cord" in their hands. They speak high-tech as their mother tongue and their natural environment is a technological one.
In this situation, it is appropriate to have a meeting between the two polaric groups, the young speakers of high-tech and the much older ones for whom the world of computer and the Internet is an unknown land with a foreign and difficult language. In this meeting, between the young and the old, the young ones teach the language of the new country, the land of technology, to the old ones.
For the last five years I have been implementing a program I initiated and started: The Intergeneration Program and the New Technologies. In this program young students, grades 5-9, tutor seniors at computer and Internet skills and learn from their older students, a chapter in the latter's personal history.
Together they write a digital version of the story, scan pictures, albums, and documents, and search for information on the Net as well as in other sources. Soon these stories will be uploaded to a designated site on the Internet.
An African proverb says that when an old person dies an entire library is set on fire. In the intergeneration program we preserve whole libraries, treasured in the minds of the elderly, by the means of the new technologies.
On the one hand our society admires youth, but it also yearns for something that used to be and is gone. One can understand this yearning against the background of ever-changing technology and incessant innovations. There is a yearning for everlasting values, there is a feeling of weariness from the rapidity of technological changes, and there is a dire desire for holding on to a meaningful and lasting narrative. The older generation supplies us with this narrative that connects between the past and the present, between what used to be and what is going to be.
The Intergeneration Program started in one school, the Alon School at Mate Yehuda. Now, almost five years later, it is being implemented in many middle schools across the country. I must admit that I am very moved each time I watch the bond created between the new and old generations. These meetings endow the two generations with interest and meaning. The postmodern society is a society in which relationships and connections are loose. However, a society draws its strength from the bond between its members. In the Intergeneration Program we strengthen intergeneration connections and existing heritage knowledge and create new connections where they are lacking. In other words, the program aims at connecting the various sectors and generations in Israeli society and at preserving the stories of the past of its senior members by the new technological skills of its young members.
A Meeting of Cultures
The meeting between these two groups, very apart age-wise, is also a meeting between two cultures. It's a meeting between an older, linear-sequential culture and a younger, associative, multi- directional, skipping-and-surfing culture.
The difference between these two cultures is also the difference between a concrete culture and a virtual one. The seniors are members of the "concrete-here" culture, whereas the culture of the youngsters is somewhere out there in cyberspace. Sitting on a chair in a limited physical environment, their spirits roam in the unlimited space of the cyber: visiting museums, meeting people, going on expeditions and much more.
This meeting is also a meeting between cultures that treat time differently: The information age is an age of immediacy, constant updating and simultaneity. I can hardly do one thing at a time. Today's youngsters use the computer, watch television, listen to music and prepare their homework, all simultaneously.
The meeting between the seniors and the young ones mitigates the franticness of the young, refutes prejudice and encourages and fosters patience and tolerance. As for the older members in our society, it energizes and stimulates their minds and zest for life, opens up new worlds and brings joy to life as well as a feeling of belonging.
This article is based on a lecture given by Edna Aphek ([email protected]) at the Eshnav (Citizens for Responsible Use of the Internet) conference, June 2002.