Illustration by Denis Shifrin
Norman Mailer was my mother's first cousin. I guess that makes me a writer by proxy. My dad always says that writing is in the genes. He may be right; however, as no one really writes anymore, the term 'typer' is probably more fitting these days.
The ease with which the written word flows from pen to media today astounds me. In ancient times in order to communicate people needed to be equipped with a hammer, chisel and a flat piece of rock. A little known fact about why ancient languages are written from right to left is that in the past left handed people, or southpaws, were considered sinister (from the Latin word for left - sinistra). They were forbidden to write with the left hand, which meant that it was only practical to use a hammer and chisel and to form the letters from right to left, with the right hand holding the hammer.
One morning when I was eating my bran flakes at the table with my daughter, it hit me like a slap on the forehead. Having a background in computers I figured I could map the flow of a story into a flow chart and develop each character just like building a program. After pronouncing this to young Shani, she reminded me, "but Dad, no one reads anymore." The youngsters today are all on Facebook, Youtube, streaming TV and a host of other things that sound like viruses. "True," I retorted, "but there are still over 700 million books sold a year and Amazon is the biggest retailer on the internet." "Yes, but they don't just sell books." With that she rushed off to school.
On my nightly walk I encountered a man and his eight year old son walking their dog. They were in earnest conversation. "Yoavi, just think what you need the satellite to do," said the dad, "There are spy satellites, ones that can take extremely high resolution pictures, communication satellites, military satellites…." As I walked out of earshot the kid had a concerned look on his face. "Gee Dad, why are you telling me this, I already know all that."
Facebook has hit over 500 million people and is still growing. The kids that invented a virtual social network site are billionaires. Who can make sense of that? My kids probably can since they are the first generation of people on this planet who have grown up being constantly wired. They have cell, internet, TV, phone apps, tablet computers all wired to the internet and can communicate with anyone on this planet easier than making a fresh glass of orange juice.
I must admit thatI was one of the early adapters of Facebook in my circle of friends of now 50 year olds. The use of Facebook by grandparents to keep updated on a daily basis with their family living in the Diaspora allows quick and easy access to the latest family news seeing pictures of the holiday in the Cape, wildlife safaris and enjoying pictures of the latest addition to the family.
This makes me realize that Facebook is in fact an enabling tool, a tool that can, if used properly, bring people closer together and allow them to share many more of their experiences with many more people. I hear that along with Google latitude, Facebook will be able to pinpoint your friends via your cell coordinates if they are close by and will effectively take the chance out of chance meetings and enable people to connect more frequently. How many times have you heard that you and a friend were in the same place at the same time and missed each other?
The latest technological advancements from Google are astounding. Gmail Motion allows one via the onboard camera to give commands by acting out movements instead of typing. This new advance allows one to incorporate gestures which are interpreted and executed as commands to perform certain actions in Gmail. For example licking a stamp symbolizes send, and a shake of the head means delete. Sounds too good to be true? Well, it is - this was announced as an April fool’s hoax by Google.
Parents these days are reticent in letting their youth loose on Facebook. Even Michelle Obama is opposed to letting her daughters loose on the social networking site. But I believe that just like the education system taught children not to pick flowers it needs to now teach them the correct usage of the latest technology. Just as Shimon Peres said recently, “We were always considered the people of the book. Now we have become the people of Facebook”.
Within a very short space of time I managed to reconnect with the school class of '77 and have been blessed by being able to rekindle some very special friendships. My kids have even become great buddies with their kids and we have shared vacations with old and dear friends.
Today electronic book readers and tablet computers are springing up faster than you can say iPad. I can foresee the time when we will come to an age where the so-called printed book is a thing of the past like the VCR, gramophone, photographic film. In fact Jeff Bezos from Amazon expects his Kindle e-book reader sales to surpass paperback sales in 2012.
For students the weight advantage of having to heave around one 700g device rather than a sack full of books will be the deciding factor. There are also clever programs today, wirelessly connected, that enable students in a class to write and share notes in the margins for all to see, enhancing their learning ability. Endless opportunities abound.
With my quest for reaching out and doing better things with technology I had a great idea about a year ago but did not take it any further. Wouldn't it be great if we could take Google street view into the world's major museums to enable the young and old to browse the art museums from the comfort of their 24 inch screen at home? "Sounds like a good idea," my friend said. "You know what? The guys at Google also thought it was a good idea." (See Googleartproject.com). You can even create your own favorite collections of works of art.
I just hope I wake up in time with my latest idea to become a billionaire before the next startup venture implements it.
I wonder what Norman Mailer would make of all of this?