While I haven’t finished Diamond Age, so I cannot make any decisive conclusions, a common theme presented at the start of the novel is that of the education. Neal Stephenson is tackling fundamental questions surrounding a new generation of youth and what education would best equip them for the future. Digital Nation, the PBS documentary (a link posted earlier by Rachel), also addresses this issue by investigating the ways technology has influenced and will influence the education system and the youth of today.
Stephenson is particularly interested in how environments and cultures affect a person’s education and identity. In relaying the history of Finkle-McGraw on page 17 he states, “while people were not genetically different, there were culturally different as they could possibly be, and some cultures were simply better than others.” The example of a community helping victims of a plane crash in need shows how some communities are better equipped to work together, thriving as a group. Throughout the novel, cultural differences of the Victorians, Hindus, Chinese, and other territories are overtly expressed. I am curious to see how Stephenson plays out his use of racial undertones throughout the rest of the novel. While the theme isn’t specifically addressed by the characters, the author is definitely interested in how race affects this future world environment.
With the new generation, the characters of Finkle-McGraw and Hackworth want their children to lead “interesting lives” (19). While the characters talk about the different child rearing styles of staunch discipline versus freedom, they never really expand on what this definition of “interesting” really entails. It is apparent, however, that they feel they need to take the education of their own children and grandchildren’s into their own hands – hence the Primer. This interactive book bonds with the child it is made for, educating them on simple topics such as spelling and more complicated tasks as how to interact with the world. This theme of controlling education to see how it affects the lives of the children will be the central theme of the novel that gets played out.
Digital Nation was interesting to watch while reading the novel because the documentary shows how technology is changing education today. In Korea, children are taught “netiquette” in grade school, singing songs on how to treat people online. In South Korea, digital technologies have transformed the lives of its citizens and the country is feeling the pronounced side effects and consequences of becoming a digital nation. How can you use technology to advance and education a country without leading children to become psychologically addicted to the screen?
To show the more beneficial effects of technology, the documentary follows schools that have embraced the use of technology in education within the United States. Many of the teachers interviewed talked about how by using technology, such as interactive powerpoints, computer lessons, etc, they are able to capture the attention of youth that would previously tune out older forms of teaching. They also point to the fact that the future is within digital technologies and if we want to prepare the upcoming generations for success, we have to implement technology into the education system.
The film ends without any conclusive argument, which is how most of our class sessions have ended. We can see the effects of hyper technology use on the kids in Asia, but we aren’t quite ready to admit that our society might be leading in that direction. We also aren’t quite ready to admit technology is fully beneficial. I am curious to read the end of Diamond Age, written in ’95, to see Stephenson’s prediction of technology and its influence on education.