"Computers are for old people, by the way," Macworld writer Christopher Breen said at a panel on Thursday. The other panelists nodded in agreement.
"So is email," Chuch La Tournous, another technology writer, added.
The times they are a-changing, as they've always been, and as they always will be. But Macworld brought to light a few of the specific ways in which teen life today (and in the not-so-distant future), deviates from four years back. Greatest hits, coming up:
All your friends are in your pocket
Omaha Sternberg, another panelist, mentioned difficulty with her 14-year-old's "obsession" with her iPhone. The issue wasn't gaming, though simple gaming apps for teens abounded on the expo hall. The issue was that she always had to have her phone on her and got anxious without it in fear of missing "the text that comes next" (Sternberg works in radio). The reality is that if a teen's social life revolves around his mobile device, to which he could, theoretically, constantly pay attention, it's going to be hard for him to put it down.
As Rita Rodriguez, a Palo Alto-based school psychologist, has said, teens are in the process of "exploring their identities" and "individuating from their families." This is one reason why peer groups are so important to teens. And being in touch with your peer group has never been easier.
But some fidelity is lost in digitalization. Not everything fits in a text message. Most teen communication is text-based, which is in many ways easier than talking on the phone, but texts convey less information. Not only do you lose the semantic layer of vocal inflection, it's usually unclear when a conversation has ended. The texts can always keep coming. This is one of the drawbacks to always being in-contact.
Sternberg claimed not to care about her stepdaughter communicating with friends, but she'd rather that communication be live and contained, as a phone conversation is. "Every time she takes my advice, she says that she had more fun than she would have otherwise."
All your work is on the computer
Teachers are moving more and more assignments onto the Internet. This does mean kids have many more legitimate excuses to use the computer, but if a parent knows the URL to the teacher's syllabus, they can keep current with their children's assignments.
Not all work is online now, but the trend is clear. It also means that school has the opportunity to improve in its new medium -- smart worksheets can check your work, give you extra problems if you need the practice or speed you through to the extra credit if you don't.
The fact that teachers, who are grown ups, do this reinforces the idea that "computers are for old people." It might seem crazy, but we appear to be raising a generation that doesn't use the desktop for fun. Particularly in Apple households, desktop computers are becoming strictly tools -- iPods, iPhones and iPads are becoming strictly toys (or extensions of their psyche, or something).
This seems like it's only going to continue as development for the iPad progresses: once all of the best strategy games are tablet-based, nobody's ever going to use a desktop for fun, except maybe the future Warcraft "traditionalist" clubs.
In many ways it's a good thing. A separate desktop for every member of the household always seemed like an excessive system, resource-wise. The future-family has a lightweight computing device for every member, and a few desktops for school and professional work (better yet, they'll use the cloud).
They can videotape your brain
For your own good. Right?
It might sound like science fiction, but it isn't as far-off as you might think. Consumer-end EEGs have been on the market for a couple years now and are only getting cheaper and better as users find more applications for them. This isn't quite an issue for most teens today, but it's looming on the very near horizon, whether they're aware of it or not.
Most applications are cheery, geared towards getting each student the instruction he needs and towards better-understanding adolescent habits and how they affect their developing psyches. But we're quickly approaching a world in which mental monitoring will fall into Christopher Breen's category of things he can tell his daughter that are "technically true but would be difficult to implement." (Imagine how much easier it would be to monitor your child's "screen time" if you had a live EEG of his brain and had figured out which blips meant he was staring at a screen.)
iFam: This is the secondin a series of Macworld pieces about how new technology has affected family life. Read the other two: parenting tips, product review.
For more of Allvoices' coverage of Macworld | iWorld 2012, check out allvoices.com/macworld2012.