Saturday, September 13, 2008

Over-dependence a creeping danger

When Sonny is a few years older, we'll be sure to get him to watch Wall-E, the shiny new movie from animation specialists Pixar. Its hero is a spunky robot who labours to crush-and-stack the mountains of trash still clogging a deserted Earth. The love interest is a drone deployed in search of biological life.

So far so bizarre. And the humans? Well, they are marooned in gigantic cruise ships in space and have grown monstrously fat from being flown everywhere on floating chairs, their every whim catered to by droids. There is an intriguing subtext of servitude and class subjection in this depiction of robot life - potentially the most original facet of this movie - but of course, it never gets developed. Still, Wall-E brims with many clever ideas, with nods to movies as diverse as Star Wars and old musicals.

We'd want Sonny to become familiar with Wall-E primarily so he can absorb the thought that too much convenience can lead to mental imprisonment. That's one theme that is dwelt on in the film: The human beings are so dependent on technology that they they speak to screens rather than to each other and find the concept of literally standing on their own feet (never mind walk) utterly novel. We are half-way there today, what with the Internet, and videoconferencing, and the Sedgeway. Things will only deteriorate (or progress) further. Of course, all of these tools are useful in their own way (we recently blogged on the importance of employing the right child-rearing resources, in 'Madame Duck-chopper and her trusty blade'). But by small degrees we can become so accustomed to the use of certain supports that they become crutches. If and when they are not suddenly not available, we are crippled.

And there's more to it than that. Sometimes, excessive reliance on certain aids can lead to us to fail to develop other, perhaps related skills. Already, today's Internet crowd have little conception of the importance of decent handwriting, since more or more of what they do - at school, at work and in what passes for correspondence - is keyed into some computer or other. With the widespread use of calculators, it is often alleged that the mental agility of students in performing calculations in their heads has declined precipitously. Or to take the most obvious example of all, a child who always relies on his parents to solve his problems for him will never gain the broader habit of independence. Watching Wall-E with Sonny would be a safeguard against our own best parental instincts, taken too far.

Sadly, the $2 crystal ball that passes for our predictive powers can't tell us what other dangers await as we migrate more and more of our lives onto computers. Thomas Payne, we are told, warned us that the price of freedom was eternal vigilance. He meant this in the stirring context of political liberty and the glories of democracy. But it's just as true a sentiment when applied to our daily acquisition of skills and abilities.


Anonymous said...

has Walle come out on DVD, I missed it - I really love taking the kids to these kinds of movies... Star wars is for me and walle for them..

Thanks for the last blog comment.

did you read the one about how I used a "rap song" to teach my duaghter self esteem? I am a mad genius...


Cloudsters said...

Hullo, wouldn't have thought Wall-E would be out on DVD yet, since it's still on theatrical release.

And we'll keep you in mind for the next time anyone asks us if there's a mad genius about that does consultancy work...