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Culture Shock: Teaching Slovaks 'progress'

America, as our anthem suggests, is a brave country. Change can be frightening, one understands, but living in an era of global change occurring at an unprecedented clip, America leads the charge.
Change has in the past been dealt with by occupation (or so me and my fellow Generation Y members have hypothesised). Occupy your time during the most dramatic change with something personally consuming, and that change will become less significant. Generations before got married and started families before they could start thinking about the changes at hand.

America, as our anthem suggests, is a brave country. Change can be frightening, one understands, but living in an era of global change occurring at an unprecedented clip, America leads the charge.

Change has in the past been dealt with by occupation (or so me and my fellow Generation Y members have hypothesised). Occupy your time during the most dramatic change with something personally consuming, and that change will become less significant. Generations before got married and started families before they could start thinking about the changes at hand.

That's why they had mid-life crises. They never had time to think about change, but once the kids were all grown up and left home, they had plenty of time to think about it. And it was scary.

But we'll bypass all that, we imagine, because we've learned from their mistakes. We finish college, travel the world, experience life, try different occupations and drugs. By the time we're due for our mid-life crisis, we'll have passed that 'phase'.

I just returned last week from a visit home to the San Francisco bay area. Having lived in Slovakia for over three years, it was a chance for me to again experience the oh-so-cutting-edge world.

My lasting impression was, naturally, technology. It's everywhere, and it has plans to take over the world (that is, if westerners like myself have our way with 'less advanced' countries like Slovakia and get you to join our 'western bodies').

At home, the phone rings and I answer. 'Sandy', a telemated caller, is on the line selling something, reminding me of some debt, gibbering about whatever. What she's saying isn't so important. Rather, it's the fact that Sandy is a computer and that she's calling me.

I jump in a car (as a good American does) and go to the gym; Gold's Gym has exercise bikes with Internet access (I wonder if I can download Sandy).

I finish my workout and go to a cafe in Berkeley for a mug of coffee; the waitress asks if I'd like to check my stock options. I go to the pizzeria to pick up my sister from work; she's running behind schedule, so I sit next to a public-access computer to, yes, check the Internet.

I walk outside because, really, I've had so much Internet access that I have no more sites to check nor e-mails to send. Standing on the street, I am passed by pedestrians on mobile phones, strapped into electronic heart monitors, wearing virtual-reality head sets, listening to discmans. The young artist painting a watercolour of some nearby redwoods is wearing a beeper.

Enough, I think, of all this technology. So I walk across a nearby bridge which I know offers a striking view of the bay and am greeted with the site of, count them, seven planes circling or descending into either Oakland, San Jose, or San Francisco international airports. I look skyward and find far fewer old-style birds.

The January 29 issue of Newsweek warns that this is "only the beginning", that "the New Economy is finally getting into gear" and that this attack on the future is being led by the West, leaving the rest of the world trying to catch up. But one story which is not being covered is how we are dealing with the technology-charged times it's bringing about. The world is changing faster than it ever has before. Countries like Slovakia are being encouraged to join; and countries like Slovakia are doing their damndest to catch up.

Meanwhile, my western Generation Y is increasingly pausing for thought and wondering, often helplessly, how to manage or slow the change.

Different people employ different coping mechanisms. One outdoor enthusiast I know just gave up, taking a dot-com job he hates in the City, and now mumbles unenthusiastically about anything and everything. Several friends quit smoking grass because the world was simply too dizzying to view through stoned eyes. Others have taken on their mid-life crises in advance, choosing their early 20's as an opportune time to lose their minds.

Me, I've taken a shining to an irrational (so I'm told) fear of flying. As my jolly British Air pilot cheerfully announced that we had "reached our cruising altitude of 39,000 feet", I went ridged, wondering why I was the only one utterly amazed and terrified at the notion. When my plane landed in Vienna (prompting the woman next to me to touch my arm reassuringly, signifying that the flight was over and I had survived), I vowed never to fly again. Across the Atlantic on a boat next time for me.

You see, I am a westerner, advanced in technological know-how and liberal ideology. I am quick to point out Slovakia's lacklustre Internet know-how and closed-mindedness to foreigners and foreign ideas. Follow me, Slovakia, for I can bring you to a place where everyone agrees is where you want to be, where there are many others just like me.

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