Last weekend Matt and I were using FaceTime to video chat with my brother, my sister-in-law, and my niece. Matt and I were in front of my iMac, so we were stationary, but my brother was using his iPad, and as he walked around the room, I watched my sister-in-law and my niece playing together. It was just like being there. I marveled that we were having this video conversation. I’m still amazed that this technology exists, something that used to seem straight out of Dick Tracy.
At one point my niece was watching me and Matt. She’s not yet two years old, and I wondered: can she comprehend this? Does she realize that we’re interacting with her, or does she think she’s watching us on TV? Or does she think we’re somehow inside the device? Is she confused by any of this?
And then I realized that she had no problem understanding that she was interacting with us. She didn’t even think about it. After all, when I was little, I watched TV and I didn’t think there were little people inside the box; I just knew that I was watching something on the TV screen. I didn’t think it was weird; I didn’t even question it. I just accepted it as part of the world.
So I’m realizing that my niece is growing up in a world where iPads and video chats and swiping your finger across a glass screen to make things happen is just the norm. To me, it’s this super cool thing that tells me we’re finally living in the future. But to her, it’s just the way the world is and always has been. She’ll grow up in a world where this technology has always existed.
What this shows me is that human beings are amazingly adaptable. In one sense, our natural habitat is the savannah, or the forest; I still feel some primeval connection to the earth when I walk through a tree-filled park. And yet I can totally take something like television, or flying in a big metal tube, or living in a big city, for granted.
If you traveled back in time, say, 10,000 years, and you kidnapped a pregnant woman and brought her back to 2011, and the woman gave birth, the mother would probably remain terrified by everything around her. But her child would grow up totally accustomed to life in the 21st century. Like my niece, this time-traveling ancient child would take iPads for granted.
The human genome is pretty close to what it was several milliennia ago. We are endlessly adaptable. It’s just so bizarre to me.