If you were born mid-90’s or earlier, you probably remember being bored. We used to talk to ourselves, play “make believe”, taking walks, listening to records, etc. We learned to entertain ourselves, imagine, and create.
Today, my children and children born into the age of the virtual world have not experienced boredom, at least not in the same way. In a sense, those who grew up in the 24-hour news cycle, with social media have never and will never experience being alone. They’ve rarely experience the sense of freedom that comes from thinking to oneself.
A personal concern, is that children’s personalities appear to develop in the absence of technology. They play with toys and make their world come to life. My two year old believes, with all his heart, that his toys are sentient. That our Roomba has feelings and needs to be “fed”. He’s learning reason, learning to manipulate the world, talking to us, and so much more.
Tools of Gods
Throughout all human history technology has been an extension of ourselves. Part of childhood is learning to use and create tools. However, today we don’t need to build tools. With phones, we have near infinite information, entertainment, and communication at our finger tips, we can connect to anyone or anything – instantly. Capture audio, video and picture with a tap. Search our memories with a voice command. Calculate any/all the math equations we can think of, etc. Our technology makes us ever more godlike.
To provide this godlike device to a child is irresponsible. Arguably, even in hands of adults, our devices do more harm than good.
The difference between adults and children, is that children need to learn-to-learn. It’s the most important thing a child can learn. How well a child learns-to-learn will shape their entire life, their potential is defined by how well they can learn. There are several important lessons in learning how to learn:
- Learning to self-reflect
- Nurturing curiosity
- Defining ones goals
- Indexing knowledge
- Finding motivation
There is probably more than goes into learning-to-learn, but that’s a good list for now.
For me, a defining moment was learning to sculpt my character in an effort to find motivation. I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on who I was and who I wanted to be. I defined myself and found the motivation I needed, with constant self-reflection to change. Without my time riding bikes, running, playing in the woods, soccer, walking alone, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
Empathy is Derived from Self
Having a godlike tool able solve most problems is a double edge sward. A phone is addictive by design. Mobile phones track us and companies learn everything about us, with that information being weaponized against us to maximize “screen time”. Is social media useful? Quite frankly, I’d argue no, social media has a net negative effect. Importantly, social media and games on your mobile device keep you constantly stimulated and often push others agenda(s).
I question if most of the newer generations, born into their environment, have really learned to live in the physical world. Has the newer generation(s) learned to live with and identify themselves? Is there self-reflection and growth? Without an internal dialog, a lot of things break down: personality, autonomy, comfort with being alone, understanding alternative viewpoints… empathy.
Perhaps, [even more concerning] without an internal identity / dialog one doesn’t develop a “classic” ego. If a self-image is typically defined by an internal image and that internal image doesn’t develop, what guides us? Likes? Karma?
This would explain the rise in more extreme moral stances. Such as building a hierarchy based on gender, race, etc. Lack of empathy for others, at the same time garnering more karma, for karma is the value system people can hold themselves to. We no longer need to contemplate who we want to be, because we can receive instant feedback on our actions.
Unfortunately, I suspect this optimizes for short-term gain, but long-term loss to society.
We’ve seen the start of the incredibly destructive cycle, where contemplating or a nuanced opinion is simply not acceptable, because others can’t relate.
Who are you?
I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.
– Robert A. Heinlein
I’m a firm believer that life is and should be tough. Growth comes from adaptation, confidence is derived from overcoming challenges. When life is tough, you have to create goals and blaze a trail to somewhere better. This is what it means to be “free”, free to have self-determination, which few embrace.
I wasn’t born to my current “class”. I would say, I was born “big-mac” rich, where you could buy a “big-mac” once a month without worrying about budget. My parents provided shelter, food and clothes, but I started mowing lawns at 12 and working a job by 14 to buy anything I needed beyond food and shelter. Yet today, (14 years & a couple kids later), I’d call myself “iPhone” rich, I can buy something of equivalent cost monthly without worrying about it.
This doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
My wife and I regularly create two and five year plans. These goals provide motivation. We can ask ourselves,
Does this activity help hit our five year objective?
If the answer is no, then it’s probably not worth doing it. We work hard, we reflect regularly and we try to improve; always iterating towards something better.
To have self-determination, people need to think for themselves. They need to contemplate what they want from life. They need to talk to themselves. Self-determination requires goals, it also requires grappling (or ignoring) others and importantly saying “no” and “yes” based on objectives not desires. In the end, this will make people happier.
It all starts with talking to ones-self, spending time alone and deciding what you want.
A Bleak Outlook
Unfortunately, the god-like tools we’ve all grown accustom to (especially, when given to kids), seem to disrupt the ability to talk to one-self. In a sense, our phones, media, and general virtual world has taken all our time; this leaves us without time for self-reflection, self-thought, self-actualization. In this stunted world, the AI which manipulates our news replaces the ego we once had.
Complex discussions, real empathy, motivation — are going to be something most of us lose. I’m not sure if society is ready for what we created. It’s a mob of people who’ve never experienced real hardship, who’ve learned a social system designed by virtue signaling (aka trying to game the “karma” systems) and not really learning to live in the real world. Then again, these people will be shaping the real world, for better or worse.