The New Childhood

Reviews.

Having written just a few, I rarely write blogs concerning the specific content of various media.

I prefer attempting to come up with my own ideas rather than spending a lot of time critiquing others’ ideas. If I am a critic at all it is of culture-at-large.

However, regarding the current book I have just completed, The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World, by Temple University Professor Jordan Shapiro, I cannot help myself. Shapiro has an amazing ability to view the world through an informed lens of human history as opposed to confining his understanding of the world through our current cultural context alone.

When one views the world historically, and I do mean from the beginning of human history as we know it, it becomes apparent our species practices a very consistent behavioral pattern concerning, well, just about everything.

This book is a history, parenting, philosophy, technology, sociology and psychology book rolled up into one cohesive outlook, critically analyzing our current relationship with technology from multiple points of access.

I have typically understood our culture’s relationship with technology through the lens of the dystopian/utopian continuum: that is, there are those who either believe the internet, and technology in general, are leading us onto a path of great dystopian destruction or to a wonderful utopian place of enlightenment and progress…with every view in between these two extremes.

No more.

Shapiro has challenged my thinking in this regard. Yes, both dystopian and utopian views exist, yet I would create a new category for him, perhaps called, a “realist-ian” or better yet, a “justdealwithit-ian.” He has convinced me that this dichotomy is misguided and unhelpful in 2019.

Shapiro looks at human history and examines the invention of the child’s playground sandbox, family dinners, the family hearth, television, clockwork mechanics, the Dewey Decimal system, even penmanship, among other overlooked cultural phenomenon, to assist us in better understanding the human condition and the monumental change technology is having upon contemporary global culture.

Just as with every innovation in human history having its fair share of naysayers, it is not long before the “back in my day” crowd slowly dies off and humanity progresses forward without the irritation of the OFD sufferers (not to be confused with prophet-like critics whose warnings are a needed and necessary aspect of moving forward with discretion).

Engaging in the dystopian/utopian discussion is akin to still giving those who refuse to get a car (“my horse works just fine, thank you very much, the world is too damn fast anyway”), or a computer (“nothing wrong with my Royal typewriter”) or even a phone (“if someone wants to talk to me they can put forward the effort to get on their damn horse and knock on my door”) some credence and validity, as if they possess reasonable objections to these contemporary conveniences.

In other words, “Dystopians, (in my richest Italian accent) get over it already! It’s called progress.”

Shapiro examines historical human innovations and details the strangely similar human reactions have been toward such innovations.

“What is it with these mechanical clocks? Was something wrong with the sun dial?”

He has convinced me that blaming the ills of society on a technology is simply misguided. Rather, any negative outcomes we believe a technology may result in, rests in our incorrect and misguided use and application of it.

“Air bags, shmare bags. I would prefer the old fashioned way of enduring accidents. Death.”

Speaking of which, imagine when the automobile became mass produced and we were driving for the first time as a society en masse: it was some time after that when we figured out stop signs would be a really good idea (1915 to be exact), that speed limits needed to be imposed while a universal lighting system consisting of green, yellow and red would really help us apply this new technology most safely and effectively. It took a while for us to figure out that, say, crosswalks and limit lines would be nice…but that took some trial and error as well, perhaps an accident or two, before we got there. These better ways to apply this new technology did not happen overnight.

Like in the application of most technologies, there is a learning curve. (As an aside, whoever thought of the left turn, red light arrow was just a flat-out mad man who should have been kicked out of the traffic meeting).

Therefore, we need to best figure out this internet technology thing as we are still in the infancy stages of its use.

How do we best apply new technologies? What new “stop signs” do we need to employ? How do we invent digital versions of crosswalks and limit lines? Shapiro asks these questions and more.

So, for a good read, I would highly recommend The New Childhood. Like myself, you may find yourself at odds with some of his extreme progressive positions on certain applications of technologies (for example his strong encouragement for his young boys to engage in, what I would deem, excessive video game play), yet his points are very well taken and his message very much needed in an age when there is no turning back.

But be warned, Shapiro can either be viewed as a utopian on steroids, or simply a person who recognizes that there is no putting the cat back in the bag nor the toothpaste back in the tube. Technologically, it is what it is and this is what it shall be until our next great innovation, at which time we will have to figure it out best practices all over again.

Now, enough reviews. I need to come up with some of my own ideas.

In the meantime, you can find the book here, among other places.

 

 

 

Legacy

I think every family has that “weird” uncle, right? I am quite certain, that in my family of origin, I am that weird uncle to certain nieces and nephews. In fact, I know I am.

However, if you believe this moniker of “weird” is somehow unflattering or disrespectful, you have no idea about my thoughts on “weird.” If interested, you could read about those thoughts here.

In short, I really like people who are different. How boring this planet would be if we did not have eccentric, strange people inhabiting it.

Enter my Uncle Les. My 87 year-old uncle recently passed away from lung cancer. As the one who presided over the funeral while delivering the eulogy, I had a chance to sit back and really reflect on my strange uncle. Though was he really that strange? You be the judge.

Uncle Les never married. He rarely dated, at least to my knowledge, and I was around for 56 of his 87 years. He never had children, or if he did he performed a stealth-like job keeping it a secret. He lived alone with his two pooches in a modest house in the hills of Burbank.

While recently cleaning out some of his belongings in his home, a neighbor came over and informed us he was very territorial and, allegedly, threatened gun play when someone dared park in front of his house or trespass on his property. I do not think he was a violent guy, you know, he just, like, didn’t appreciate unwanted trespassers I guess.

I have plenty of Uncle Les stories, like the time when I was a kid and my family was driving home one night and we watched as police officers were giving a man a field sobriety test…lo and behold it was my uncle.

But that was a long time ago. Uncle Les stopped boozing sometime in the mid 80’s.

Yet perhaps the strangest thing about him was his relationship with money. In our Hungarian family he was known as an “ocho sheggi,” (please do not hold me accountable for the spelling of this phrase) which is Hungarian for “cheap ass.”

To illustrate, often times for Thanksgiving he would eat at the local Salvation Army to save a few bucks. He was generous enough to will me his car upon his passing, and though Uncle Les had plenty of money in the bank, several properties, and a home worth damn near a million bucks, he left me a 2011 Toyota Yaris with crank windows.

I had no idea they still manufactured cars with crank windows in 2011.

You could say he was a “no frills” kind of guy. He actually enjoyed being extremely cheap, saving every penny he could whenever he could. He would brag about how little he paid for things…if he even paid for it at all and was not picking it out of a local dumpster.

But dammit, I loved the guy…a lot. I really did, particularly as he aged. His relationship with money was endearing in a strange kind of way. We would often take him out to lunch or dinner and I would pick up the tab. As I swooped up the $32.49 check to pay, he had a look in his eye like I just bought him a new Tessla Roadster or 14 carat diamond watch.

And, to be fair, he would treat on occasion as well…even if it was the greasy spoon called Harry’s Family Restaurant in beautiful downtown Burbank, where the omelettes are 4.99 though the cockroaches come for free.

But this is not why I write today. I write because Uncle Les is remnant of a bygone era whose values are sadly dying with it. Born circa 1930, a depression era baby, Uncle Les and his ilk did not run out and by new socks when one wore a hole through one – you stitched it back up and off you went.

You valued hefty savings accounts not expensive cars; a “rainy day” fund over fancy clothes. Uncle Les had enough money to do whatever he wanted to do: buy a bigger house, a nicer car, a vacation property or two, but, no. He had developed a lifestyle that he was content with and lived life on his own “ocho sheggi” terms.

So now I, along with my siblings and cousins, am left with what Uncle Les refused to spend and I feel really weird about it. Really weird.

Perhaps my biggest take away is the old adage, that money cannot buy you happiness. Or that a man worked his entire life and saved damn near every penny for the sole purpose of leaving it for the next generation – a next generation that did not include any children of his own.

Uncle Les lived in an age where character mattered and the legacy a person leaves actually meant something.

As we buried Uncle Les we did not bury his legacy nor our gratitude for his profound generosity. As we lowered him down his legacy rose like a phoenix out of the ashes along with our love and appreciation.

I now realize Uncle Les is in many ways a role model for all of us and I am now challenged like never before to consider what legacy I can leave the next generation when my number comes up.

I guess sometimes (Uncle) Les(s) is more…than you could have ever imagined. Thank you. Your legacy lives on.