Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/12/2015 (551 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
What calculators did to mental math skills in the 1980s, what GPS did to spatial awareness in the 2000s, smartphone ubiquity is now doing to the logistic sense of a generation that has known nothing else than being constantly connected to their entire social circle.
Consider the efforts of a group of bright and busy Grade 11 girls who needed to meet for band rehearsal on the evening before a gig. Sarah lives out of town and hosts the practices. Maria and Natasha had afternoon commitments and could meet at Maria's house when they were done. Paula worked till 6:30 p.m., and her mother said she was able to drive the girls out to Sarah's house.
Rocket science was not required to come up with the logical plan. When Paula got home from work, she and her mom could swing by Maria's house and take the three girls to Sarah's place. This could easily have been arranged with a couple of phone calls the night before, and no further thought by anyone would be required until it was executed.
But there seems to be an aversion to rigid planning of any sort among this cohort. Initial exchanges between the four girls went something like this: "When are you home from work?" "Soon after 6:30, I'll text." "When are you finished volleyball?" "Around 4:30, I'll text." "When is your dentist appointment done?" "Late afternoon, I'll text" "When are you home from school?" "Around 4, I'll text."
Over the course of several hours, dozens and dozens of messages were exchanged between the four girls in three locations. Even though all were aware of the basic plan, there seemed to be a need to constantly touch base with each other as time moved on. A wait of more than a couple of minutes for a response to a query was cause for concern, although there was some recognition Paula might be brief and not always prompt since she was serving customers at work at the same time.
As things unfolded, a cryptic message, "I'm here," led to the plan falling apart. It was not clear from the message trail where "here" meant -- still at work, now at home or already at Sarah's? In the end, Paula and her mom drove to Sarah's alone, thinking Maria and Natasha had arrived earlier. Maria's father was quickly enlisted to drive the remaining two. Thus, after hours of constant contact, two vehicles were needed to drive three girls to band practice.
Today's young adults are the first generation who are almost constantly connected to their peer group in real time. It doesn't matter where they are -- in school, at home or kilometres apart from each other; they always know what everyone else is doing at any given moment. That does not always ensure the success of a plan. Until a few years ago, it was possible for a family to go to a mall and agree to "meet at the ice cream place at 4 p.m." That no longer happens. Now, families play phone tag, swap updates on changing locations and don't actually connect till 5 p.m.
The notion of physical separation is changing in ways social scientists and game theorists are surely investigating. Perhaps having a plan is too linear a notion for a web structure where every vertex is linked to every other in a state of constant fluidity. Algorithms become passé. The new paradigm seems to be that since everyone is always connected to everyone else, we don't need to bind ourselves to a blueprint and can simply choose our paths as we move along.
But sometimes the obvious is missed.
Bill Schroeder grew up in southern Manitoba and now teaches high school mathematics in Barry's Bay, a small town in the upper Ottawa Valley in Ontario.