K.D.: Absolutely. So that's one theme which really emerged quite strongly when we were looking at identity, that so much of young people's identities are very much public and performances. They're very performative and you can really see this in the emergence of "selfies" that kids take with smart phones and constant status updates and profile "likes", all of this sort of converges to really underscore this performative aspect of identity and truly kind of see one's identity as a brand that you have to manage and cultivate carefully and present as fully formed and crystallized.
Which means that all of your attention and focus on this outward exterior and this brand that you are cultivating, comes at the cost of focusing inward on your inner life and your thoughts and really exploring deeply your own feelings and who you are.
R.K.: Okay. Howard, how about a story from you?
H.G.: [laughs] Well I want to just talk about something that kind of shook me up and made me realize how different it is to grow up today than it was half a century ago and that is that, nowadays, many kids have never gotten lost. Not only have they got a device that gets carried with them that has many different kinds of maps and routes as they can pull up, but many of them have parents who are monitoring where they are and who can get in touch with them at all times.
We have this phrase of "helicopter parents" and again doing a contrast with my generation we used to go away to college or go abroad, and you might contact your parents once a week or once a month; my mother, who is now one hundred and two still says when I'm on the phone, "I have to get off now it's getting too expensive", this is not something we think about very much nowadays.
So I realize that not only do many kids not have the sensation of getting lost or being distanced, but that this is also a metaphor for how many kids nowadays think about their lives so Katie and I came up with this notion of the super app, an app is basically a convenient way to get something done online, it's an application, you want to know where to go and eat or how to get somewhere, or you want to check on the status of something or somebody, but the tendency now is to see your life as a set of apps., one after another. You have to go to a certain school, take certain courses, have certain majors, have certain internships, and then when you graduate school you have to get a certain kind of job and maybe it's okay to do Teach for America for two years before you get that job but basically then you want to go and get a well paid job in New York or San Francisco or some other city, and of course life doesn't work out that way.
You can't plan your whole life, at least not yet, but if you've always thought that your life was planned and if as Katie and I discovered after interviewing literally over a hundred adults who work with kids, kids are very risk averse, that is they don't want to stick their neck out unless they're told it's okay to do so, they can be in for a very demoralizing experience when the super app doesn't work out, when the job doesn't work out, when the internship doesn't work out or, to be a little parochial, when you post something which would be better not posted and that comes to dog you even years afterwards.
So this notion that just as the individual app is quick and efficient and gets you where you want to go, if you think about life like this, this can be very risky in the sense that if you've never faced risk, when finally, something doesn't work out, you really don't know what to do, so this whole thing was quite a shock to me.
R.K.: Okay, so I want to throw a quote at you from a talk you gave at an RSA forum in England recently and then a brief quote from your book and then we're going to get more in depth on it.
So you said that, in a question and answer session that the " the digital explosion/revolution is as disruptive as the invention of writing and the invention of print" and "the disruption in education, which I never thought would happen, has happened and is different." That was what you said in the comments, in the discussion section. Then you wrote in your book near the end, "the birth of writing did not destroy human memory though it probably brought to the fore different forms of memory for different purposes, the birth of printing did not destroy beautifully wrought graphic works, nor did it undermine all hierarchically organized religions."
You go on to say "for every major medium of communication that began as the product of human imagination one can tell a story of how mega-corporations eventually came to dominate the media and to determine how human beings interacted with them." A little further on you say, "we must also acknowledge the possibility of powers even greater than those associated with mega-corporations and powerful political entities."
That made me think about a recent conference I attended organized by a Russian '.com' millionaire in his early thirties who wants to live forever and he brought together people who have the technology to make it happen. One of them is Theodore Berger, he's at the University of Southern California, L.A., and he has invented a working hippocampal prosthesis which he has also characterized as a cognitive prosthesis. Have you heard about this idea?
H.G.: I missed the key word, did you say hippocampal or did I make that up?
R.K.: Yes, the hippocampal -
H.G.:That's the part of the brain which is involved with encoding long term memories.
R.K.: Yes, and what they've done with rats and they're soon going to be doing it with monkeys, is they've made a working digital piece of hardware that supplements the brain. Now, I bring this up because it kind of goes where the ultimate app might go, which is very scary to me. And I think it kind of suggests, in a way, what some of your concerns that this will replace people doing things for themselves. So, I'm kind of just throwing that in there because that's where apps could end up really -