To My Son On The Occasion Of His 10th Birthday - InformationWeek

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8/9/2008
01:17 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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To My Son On The Occasion Of His 10th Birthday

Sitting in my cramped, the flight-attendants-are-only-rude and there's no free food besides, American Airlines flight back from LA on Friday, it struck me that turning 10 nowadays -- and Happy Birthday, son; we'll have cake tomorrow -- doesn't involve the same kind of technological coming of age I experienced nearly 20 (OK, 40) years ago. Nope; you young'un's today have gained MySpace, but have lost something intangible in the process. Like, maybe, the thrill of living amid fascinating times, in

Sitting in my cramped, the flight-attendants-are-only-rude and there's no free food besides, American Airlines flight back from LA on Friday, it struck me that turning 10 nowadays -- and Happy Birthday, son; we'll have cake tomorrow -- doesn't involve the same kind of technological coming of age I experienced nearly 20 (OK, 40) years ago. Nope; you young'un's today have gained MySpace, but have lost something intangible in the process. Like, maybe, the thrill of living amid fascinating times, in a world where the future possibilities seemed endless.For example, I was only a little older than you when I boarded a spanking new Pam Am 747 in the summer of 1970 for a family vacation to London. That wide-body was the recently launched, crowning achievement of the American aerospace industry. And boy did I feel special flying on one. The stewardess -- unbelievably, that's what they were called back then! -- gave me a little Captain's pin to commemorate the occasion. (It's been all downhill, title-wise, since then.)

That also was the summer I started buying electronics magazines, and reading about these strange things called "gates," which were aggregated (look it up online, son) to build digital computers. The next year, I was deeply influenced by a paperback I took off my dad's bookshelf, Lawrence Lessing's biography of FM inventor Edwin Howard Armstrong. I was off to the engineering races from there, through a technical degree at Cooper Union, work on software development for radar systems, a long stint at Electronic Engineering Times in its heyday, and onto my current gig as a middlingly prominent link-blogger, among other things. But enough about me. What I'm interested in is where your head is at.

Actually, from the interests you've expressed so far, you're shaping up to be history guy, not computer geek. (Good for you!) Your affinity for PSP and PlayStation notwithstanding, most of the Web surfing I've observed as your POS (that's "parent over shoulder"; what did you think I meant?) has involved dipping into Wikipedia to read up about medieval armor, or famous battles, or the workings of early rifles. (Sure, there was that time I caught you looking at some online images your classmate's older sibling turned you onto, but I've since switched on the parental controls. Hey, don't worry; we did similar stuff, though it involved sneaking magazines down to the basement.)

Since I often view my past through the prism of how I imagine you're looking at your future, I'm also fascinated by the gadget-then, gadget-now dichotomy between the different eras in which we grew up.

For example, on my plane ride back from LA, I was toting an iPhone, BlackBerry, a Lenovo laptop, and a Samsung mp3 player for good measure, for when the iPhone's battery quit. (Like I wrote in an earlier post, my other says I own every electronics device known to man. But enough about your mother, with whom I probably won't be speaking -- again -- after she reads this entry.)

The thing of it is, even I'm starting to get sick of all this crap! When I was 10, there was none of this stuff. Back then, anything electrical offered a new and exciting discrete-semiconductor slate from which to learn and imagine the next great think. (Jobs and Woz beat me to most of them.) I loved pulling apart transistor radios and attempting to build small amplifiers.

Your generation is undoubtedly less enticed by technology, because it's a given -- that ubiquitous but useless MySpace page, again. Instead, you're more intrigued by, what? I don't know. The meme when I was young was that medicine, science, and America (in reverse order, by the way) were all headed up, up, up, into a brighter future which would banish diseases, productize aerocars, and extend our democratic paradigm throughout the globe.

Now, at best, I suppose your teenage peers are hoping for a holding pattern of sorts, in which the future isn't tilting further downward economically. And where there's a decent job, any job, at the end of the graduation rainbow.

Buy hey, I can see you're not worried about any of this. You're 10, and what you want most is to see the new Batman movie, whack a baseball down the line, and challenge me to Wii Bowling (where I can still beat you, for perhaps a few more years).

So Happy Birthday, dude. (What? I'm not gonna print his name; there are identity thieves and worse out there.) Daddy loves you.



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