- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2000

In many ways, I envy my children. These brave new pioneers of the 21st century are totally nonplused by a world that changes faster than the speed of light.
While I'm still trying to figure out how to reach out and touch someone on my new multibutton phone, they're simultaneously having a 10-way real-time e-chat while conducting a three-way phone conference on a hands-free phone.
For his 14th birthday last June, my son wanted nothing more than a portable CD player. His birthday wish was granted, and he has used the gift so often, I would be hard-pressed to recognize him without the ubiquitous headset.
I understood his love affair with his music-delivery system. I still remember how excited I was when I got my first transistor radio. It was gray plastic with a silver mesh front, and I carried it everywhere.
I would try to listen to the Beatles and Herman's Hermits in places where they clearly were not allowed specifically, the classroom and dinner table. Thinking myself clever, I would snake the wire to the earpiece down my sleeve, and, holding the earpiece in my palm, I would rest my head on my hand and pretend to pay attention to my teacher's lesson or my parent's queries about my school day. But the tinny tones and my dreamy expression would betray me, and I rarely got away with my ruse.
Every night I would fall asleep listening to the muffled words of New York disc jockey Murray the K as he spoke to me from the transistor radio buried under my pillow. I cherished the radio for years and had no thought of trading it in for anything.
That's not the case with today's generation, as tape players give way to CD players, which, in turn are superseded by MP3 players all within the space of shockingly few years.
So with my son's 15th birthday on the horizon, he began dropping hints that the CD player I considered cutting-edge (I'm still using my 10-year-old Walkman), he considered useless in an age when music can be downloaded from the Internet onto an MP3 player.
I let drop very unsubtle hints of my own, telling him he would have to find his own funds for any technology upgrades.
He did, using savings hard-earned from his early-morning paper route. Within hours of his purchase, he was not only downloading and listening to music from the Internet, but also cutting his own discs on his MP3 player and recorder. He didn't even stop to read the thick owner's manual.
I just shook my head in amazement. The world is moving too fast for me. I have yet to master recording a television program on my VCR, but less than 10 minutes after opening the box holding his latest purchase, my son had turned his desk into a recording studio. I worry that my children's acceptance of whiz-bang technology has dimmed their ability to experience wonderment.
This tendency to turn modern marvels into ho-hum everyday occurrences has even tinged the lexicon of my children's generation.
"That's awesome," my children will exclaim 10 times a day, using the expression the same way I used "cool" or "groovy." The phrase is invoked to compliment an outfit, comment on a new video game or on very rare occasions compliment my dinner presentations. I often wonder what is left to say when they witness a breathtaking sunset or catch a glimpse of a falling star.
The other day, my daughter came home from first grade with a caterpillar. We had ordered it a few months earlier as part of a schoolwide butterfly project. The caterpillar came in a plastic container with a wedge of food that will last the five weeks until it turns into a butterfly.
It was sent home with a pamphlet that explains the metamorphosis process, which I explained to my daughter. She listened carefully and then watched the tiny little caterpillar for a while.
"So this little bug will grow and grow and then make its own cocoon and then pop out of it as a butterfly?" she asked.
"Wow," she exclaimed, "that is totally awesome."
"That's right," I said. "It really is."
Paula Gray Hunker, who works from home, is the mother of four children, the bemused wife of her amazing (but true) husband and a staff writer for the Family Times. She welcomes comments, suggestions and stories from her readers. She can be reached by mail at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave., NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; by phone at 202/636-4897; by fax at 610/351-1791; or by e-mail at [email protected]

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