Something to learn from the “last of a dying breed”

As soon as I saw its title, I couldn’t not read what came next: What it feels like to be the last generation to remember life before the internet.

It’s a piece in Quartz that discusses Michael Harris’ new book, “The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection.” Born before 1985, I happen to be who the article references as “the very opposite of the ‘millennial’ demographic,” “the last of a dying breed.”

Though I’ve not yet read the book, its premise intrigues me, A particular quote from the article has lingered long after I’ve moved on to other things–

“Being in this situation puts us in a privileged position. ‘If we’re the last people in history to know life before the internet, we are also the only ones who will ever speak, as it were, both languages. We are the only fluent translators of Before and After.’”

What to learn from a dying breedI never want to languish in memories of The Good Old Days nor romanticize the past beyond its place, but apparently by virtue of the year of my birth, I am bilingual. You are, too, if you were born before 1985, and we’re able to speak to what life was like before the internet was born.

Those of us born before 1985 are in an oddly privileged position. We can speak experientially about what our children will only understand conceptually.

Our children will never understand life apart from the internet.

They will never learn how to use a microfiche reader (they won’t even know what it is!) or have to carry a thousand pounds of reference books to write a research paper.

Truly, there are zillions of experiences they’ll never know – never need to know – because of technological advances we could have never imagined back in the day.

My children are older now, but I wish I had this understanding when they were little.

It wouldn’t have philosophically changed the way I (we) parented, but I might have more strongly impressed upon them a few skills and practices I believe will set them apart now and in the future.

Something to learn from the last of a dying breedThe beauty and benefits of boredom.

I know we’re coming out of summer when children have been underfoot and many mamas are past ready for their kiddos to return to school, but one of the loveliest things about summer is a more relaxed schedule.

Unless your children are playing in summer leagues, they typically don’t have extracurriculars demanding attention. While they could easily fill their time with technological pacifiers – gaming, TV binge watching, social networking – learning how to cope with boredom will serve them well (this isn’t confined to summertime!).

Boredom is a fantastic motivator for doing something and spurring imagination.

Don’t let technology rob them of tent forts or lemonade stands or board games. Of course, activities are determined by a child’s age, but I feel for the kid who’s never learned to lie on his back and “see” animal shapes in the clouds.

Dragons, dinosaurs, and unicorns are waiting to be found.

Something to learn from the last of a dying breedLearning how to read a map.

I know I know, GPS is a good thing – a great thing – for getting from here to there. But it’s not 100% reliable.

Maybe the cell phone they’re using dies and they left their car charger at home; maybe they find themselves unexpectedly in an area with no cell service.

Believe it or not, there ARE circumstances you’ll find yourself in, where you need to understand where you are and be able to orient yourself without the help of a device.

These days, we’re conditioned to type in an address and follow it blindly, not even recognizing if we’re headed north, south, east, or west.

Learning navigational skills might not be something you use on a daily basis, but it falls neatly under one of my Life Philosophies: “Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.” 

What can we learn Being able to fix, create, or do things with your hands.

The path of least resistance is followed because it’s easier.

Teach your kids to buck that temptation by learning how to do things themselves. Fix a running toilet; hang a ceiling fan; change the lightbulb on your car’s headlight–simple things that will cost a lot if you hire someone else to do it for you.

Or, get comfortable in the kitchen. That doesn’t necessarily mean cooking gourmet meals; finding a few, decently-healthy meals you can prepare will always serve you and your family, and potentially be a gift for others.

Or maybe pick up art supplies and try your hand at painting or making jewelry or Pinterest-crafting. Teach your kids to garden, woodwork, sew, or write in cursive!

Learn with them if need be (lifelong learning is an important practice to pass on). 

Don’t get lost in the virtual matrix at the expense of learning valuable, real life skills that not everyone in the future will have.

Something to learnTeach manners and focused attention.

I’m convinced that training/coaching/teaching your children to completely disconnect from their phone when they’re with other people or at work is a skill that will distinguish them and set them apart from the pack.

It’s not only a pet peeve or personal preference to resent frequent phone checkers when you’re in conversation; it is unprofessional in a work environment and downright rude in a personal setting.

Believe me, while I’m wagging a finger outward, three are pointing back at me, and this is a practice I’m hoping to perfect myself.

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Seana Turner

    Was just having thoughts along this line about memorization. We used to memorize things, because we didn’t believe we could just whip out a phone and look them up. I’m not sure this outsourcing of memory is a good thing. Yes, it offers convenience and spares us from having to cram the mundane into our minds, but we are also somewhat vulnerable and dependent on the internet. Great post!

    • Robin Dance


      Yes! I have to REALLY think to remember my husband’s and children’s telephone numbers because they’re programmed; and yet, I can still recite the first telephone number we had, even before you had to use all seven digits. When I was young, locally, we could just use the last five numbers; the first two indicated our area, I think. It’s a faint memory, but I can still recall.

      “Outsourcing memory” – that’s a phrase I’ve never heard, but I like it! I’m sure I’ll be pondering ALL the ways we do that these days. Thank you for adding this :).

    • kim domingue

      Outsourcing of memory. I will definitely be using that phrase! I was the kid in high school who railed against being required to memorize the periodic table. I STILL don’t see the point. On the other hand, having memorized the multiplication tables has proved useful from the get go. I’m appalled when I see a young person whipping out their phone to find out what 12 X 20 equals! And they’re amazed that I do math in my head without the benefit of phone, calculator or pen and paper!

      I’m also appalled at myself. I can tell you my Grandmama’s phone number which hasn’t been used in 33 years but couldn’t tell you my children’s phone numbers to save my life! I’m not even sure I have them written down anywhere. It’s so easy to hit the call “so and so” button on the cell phone and so easy to forget that there might be a circumstance that arises when you might need to know a phone number right off the top of your head. Well, that’s it then. I’m going to commit all of my important phone numbers to memory and start dialing them instead of just hitting the call “so and so” button. Repeated use imprints on the memory, right?

  2. Abbie

    YES YES! All this is why I limit screen time at home. And my kids find so many fun, creative things to do.

    • Robin Dance

      Everyone wins :).

  3. Leanne Sowul

    I am adding that book to my Goodreads list right now! I never thought of my generation’s unique role in the internet explosion. I feel comfortable with technology, but also nostalgic for the lack of it. Just like with any new invention, it makes some things better and some worse. Even electricity, which we take completely for granted, came with a high price: it allowed people to work long hours without regard to sunlight or seasons, which eventually lead to the need for labor laws. Future generations will probably take the internet completely for granted too, and will have figured out how to exist in a world that is both real and digital. But it is very interesting to be a generation on the cusp of something so huge.

    • Robin Dance

      Interesting point about electricity; I bet if we sat here a while, we’d come up with all kinds of cause/effects of inventions, good and bad. Thanks for adding your thoughts to this conversation!

  4. Linda Sand

    Plus, so many phrases are about to go out of vogue. Children today don’t understand the concept of quarter to twelve or half past six. How many have ever seen an analog clock?

    And I remember my Grandma having a 4-digit phone number so they had to put another one on the front before adding the two new numbers when we went to seven digit dialing. And I remember my cousins having a party line. Yes, I am that old. Probably your parent’s generation since my daughter is older than you.

    • Robin Dance

      Oh my word…THAT I haven’t thought of (the analog clock thing). But we DO have analogs around because we like the look of them. AND, my boys wanted analog watches; it never occurred to me that might help them understand something others might not get. I’ll have to make a point of talking about that when I’m with them.

      I remember a 5-digit phone number :).

      • Hillary

        I use analogue clocks in my therapy with kids (I’m an SLP) to help them understand the passage of time – so important for planning, prediction, organization – those executive function skills!

    • kim domingue

      I’m 56 and even though my Grandmama has been gone now for 33 years, I can still remember her phone number……6416. My children’s phone numbers…! Nope. And I just recently tried to explain what a party line was to a teenager who likely has never had a landline in his home or has ever seen a rotary dial phone in real life. It was an interesting discussion to say the least. I walked away from it feeling older than Methuselah and T-Rex combined.

  5. Sarah Badat Richardson

    It’s worrisome when kids will now pick the ipad over playing with other kids. I just had a playdate set up with another 6 yo & she pouted the whole time because she couldn’t play Pokemon Go. My daughter asked her to play numerous times & she just wouldn’t. She said she was bored. We were at a beautiful beach park in HAWAII!!!
    At my child’s sports class, the kids hang out in a room & I require they turn off electronics. At which point they will play cards, board games, charades and have a blast but it is never their first choice…I don’t get it. When you are alone, I could understand but when there are kids, why pick the machine over the human?

    • Robin Dance

      To answer your question, I think they’ll choose electronics for two reasons: 1) path of least resistance, and 2) they’re addictive. Game makers KNOW they’re addictive and create ways and means to lure you in. Reading about the back side of gaming is SO interesting. I’m glad you held your ground on the playdate w/NO Pokemon Go…an unpopular but mentally healthier decision :).

    • Melissa

      Yes they are addictive. It’s like the kids are brainwashed and don’t even know where they are when on electronics. They are only aware of their electronic world no matter who is right in front of them. Kids can get depressed over failing in a game. My son doesn’t even know when he has to go to the bathroom while playing games.
      It is up to parents to limit the kids’ exposure to electronics so the kids can get bored and then find something wonderful to do like chase butterflies, play board games, and get creative.

  6. Kara

    Great post! The older my kids get the harder it is to control how much time they are on the computer, but I have to say I think that their early childhood was filled with forts and dirt and fingerpainting. Having teenagers I see the impact of computers in their social interaction. They have a harder time talking to one another, boys and girls will say each other to things via computers/phones that they would not say face to face. So I’m teaching an interpersonal communications class at co-op where we will learn the art of introducing ourselves and each other to a group, etc. I don’t want any generation to lose the art, or the importance of, facial expressions and body language.

    • Beth Maryea

      That is fabulous Kara!! All kids need that class

    • Robin Dance

      Kara, I’m intrigued. Is this a one-night class? Do you have a curriculum? Please share? (my email is at gmail) I think that’s SO important! Truly, kids today don’t really know how to use the phone for TALKING! Crazyville….

  7. Maryalene

    Loved this article!

    I’ve been trying so hard to limit screen time and always feel it’s not having much of an impact. But I did have a small victory last night. When there is no school, I usually let my three teens play video games together after the two little ones go to bed. Well, last night, they played for half an hour and then shut off the TV and decided they would rather play a board game instead. That’s never happened before! I was so tickled pink!

    • Robin Dance

      Bravo! Celebrating with you!

      In our family, limits weren’t just good, they were necessary. If either of my boys played too long, you could tell the change in personality (irritable, sharp, short). Boundaries are sometimes hard to set and enforce, but they’re helpful and healthy imho. 🙂

  8. Erin

    I’ve never thought of myself in this way and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that my incoming freshmen (I’m a high school teacher) will be learning about 9/11 as a historical event that happened before they were born. I talk about life before the internet and how things were when I was in high school all the time and they often don’t seem to understand. Although, when I did a writing exercise, most of them could identify a picture of a floppy disk and other items they’ve never had to use. My first grader has an analog clock in his room and an analog watch on his wrist. I’ve never considered the map thing and I don’t even think we own a map that’s not in a travel guide book. Something to think about… I wonder if I could also do some sort of map reading lesson in my classroom…

  9. Joyce H.

    I have had the joy of hearing my daughter, now 19, brag to her friends about having analog clocks all over our house and learning how to tell time with them. It helped her in school with fractions and all the other language of telling time like quarter to, half past.
    There are also a lot of phrases where the original meaning is lost such as:. sounding like a broken record, the sound and motion of hitting the return on a manual typewriter……
    oops I can’t remember any more right now!!

  10. Meghan

    Being born in 1985 as well, I feel this too. I think I have heard of this book and it equally peaked my interest too. I am a Laura Ingalls -loving outdoorsy homeschooling mama so we frequently leave our tech inside and wonder outside. I had to break free from the guilt that came with scrolling through social media but still feeling weighed down because I could not catch up on e.v.e.r.y single person’s life no matter how long I sat there and tried. Then it dawned on me, it wasn’t my job to do so. That I had to let God lead in this area, to the one, two or few who I could reach out to and make a difference for. Blessings and thanks for sharing. Such vivid photos and great advice here!

  11. Joe Joe

    Such an interesting topic! Im thankful that for once I can take a thankful stance. My family and I are Americans but church plant in France, and so my kids go to public school where they are faced with lots of hard things. We have questionable topics come up a lot. We do a LOT of talking about these subjects. I have to do a LOT of supplemental school. Don’t worry I try to make it fun. I choose books around the house that touch on American history and culture or my family’s values or creative thinking and problem solving as these particular subjects are not reinforced heavily in French schools. However, for once, these are some areas where I am grateful they learn naturally because things like cursive and orientation are mandatory. Memorization? That’s how they learn. Their teachers require them to say proper greetings (it’s also a cultural value). Now, France is becoming more and more digital, so this is changing quickly. Sociologists say that the millennial generation is the first one in history to have more in common with each other around the world than with the previous generations of their own culture. We are ALL on a learning curve now. Thanks for the reminder to instill more basic skills in our children!

  12. Diana

    I read this quickly, b/c my kiddos need to be woken up, but a lot of what you described here reminds me of my goal of “primary experience” for my kids. I think I got that phrase from Last Child in the Woods, but I’m trying to keep that in mind as they get older. If there’s a way for them to actually HAVE an experience–in nature, learning a new skill, seeing something interesting, discovering an answer by looking at tangible objects–I always want to choose that option over the easy one of “I bet there’s a youtube video about that!” 🙂 Thanks for the reminders!

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