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.

 

 

 

The New Nationalism: Why?

(Disclaimer: Since writing this blog a few days ago, I have heard the theory I am about to express just mentioned on the latest Sam Harris podcast with guest Yuval Noah Harari, just as I am now sure it have been espoused through other sources as well. Not sure this adds credibility to it or not…though it was original when I though of it!)

Curiousity. I love it. I am all about it. In particular when it comes to human behavior and the choices we make and why.

More specifically, I am very curious in regards to cause and effect relationships. Like one of my favorite podcasts, Freakonomics, does on a weekly basis, I like to posit theories on why something is the case. For example, since 1990 violent crime rates have dropped significantly and, outside of certain particularly violent pockets, continue to do so.

Why?

What correlating factors have transpired in society that explain, at least in part, why this phenomena is occurring? The above Freakonomics podcasters have drawn a correlation between the legalization of abortion in 1973 with the drop in violent crime rates. The logic behind this thinking is that those who are more likely to perform violent crimes -unwanted children- would be entering prime violent crime age in 1990 and, well, simply did not exist to do the evil deed.

Agree or not, it is reasonable theory. At least someone is attempting to make sense of social events.

Regardless of your personal thoughts on this rather controversial cause and effect argument between abortion and crime rates, it is imperative for a culture to be asking such critical questions and attempt to find hidden and unintended correlations between various social manifestations.

If we are not continually asking the question “why?” a trend is taking place, we will forever be enslaved to the consequences of that which goes unexamined.

So today I look at our world and see a wave of nationalism sweeping over the majority of countries.

What is nationalism? I understand the word to mean a type of patriotism run wild and amok. It is the presence of strong ethnocentrism that is much more than having a sense of pride in one’s nation – it such pride accompanied with xenophobia, hatred expressed toward particular outgroups, and the suppression of such groups. It is the protection of national identity at nearly all costs…blood and war included.

The point of this blog entry is not to inform on where, or if,  this is taking place (for a good read on this check this Economist article…after which you will no longer have any doubt of its global existence) rather it is to ask the question as to why it is taking place.

Why, in 2017, are countries resorting back to isolationist type policies, fearing immigration and feeling compelled, perhaps more than ever, to protect itself at all costs including the coveting of its own sense of ethnic and racial identities? Why is pure patriotism morphing into dangerous nationalism? It is so much more than Trump’s victory, a victory that promised walls and protection, or even Brexit, which was fueled over the issue of immigration. We see this happening everywhere, including France, Austria, Hungary, India and, of course, totalitarian nationalism in North Korea, just to name a few.

I am far from an expert on global politics though I am a person who is very curious. Why this? Why now? Why nearly everywhere?

As is the answer for most social phenomena, it is hardly as clear cut as a single determining source. Such complex activity is typically the result of a confluence of complicated factors, probably best answered by political scientists. Yet, hell, someone very close to me even suggested it may be the alignment of the planets -as the last time we saw such a wave, in the 1930’s, the planets were aligned in a similar fashion.

I must confess that this astrological theory is somewhat outside my intellectual comfort zone. But who knows?

As one who is paid to observe human behavior and the communication process, I would like to throw my (more grounded?) communication-based theory into the ring and propose something a bit more down to earth.

I would begin my inquiry by examining what all of these countries have in common and, as a communication guy and quasi-Neal Postman disciple, I must look to the idea of our technological mediums as the answer to the question of what common denominator might be shared around the globe.

It is indisputable our world is becoming an increasingly global village as a result of our technological advances largely due to social media. As our world continues to move in this direction of global oneness, it does what each of us do when faced with drastic change in our life: We fight back and attempt to preserve what is, or, in some cases, what was…in spite of the oncoming inevitable new technological world and the threat of potential global unification it may usher in.

Where there is a big push there is a pull; an action, a reaction; a thesis, an antithesis.

Could the macro movement towards isolationism, protectionism and anti-immigration be the micro equivalent of the resisting child screaming with their hands over their ears when her parents tell her the unwelcomed news that they are perhaps moving, or worse, divorcing?

Perhaps we are experiencing a natural human push back against the effect mediums are having upon the globe –effects that include the breaking down of communication walls, a more global economy and the impending consequence of eroding needs for a strong nationalistic identity, including less need for demarcating lines in the sand distinguishing “us” from “them.”

And those who push back to this new world reply with, “Not on my watch.”

An overreaction is typically driven by the feel of a threat with fear at its core, while typically operating at a subconscious level. As technological media imperialism makes its way through the globe and brings all humanity in contact with each other, such an overreaction to build walls and preserve strong nationalistic identities seems a natural reaction to the “threat” of globalism, fueled by technology.

Could it be that the current wave of nationalism is an unintended consequence of Google, Facebook, Couchsurfing, Twitter or, hell, even Craigslist among nearly countless other social media sites? Individuals can now connect with each other, bypassing mainstream media (some might contend the indoctrination of mainstream media) to form their own identities, free from ethnic or nationalistic overtones.

We can now, more than ever, associate with our own personal identity group first and foremost, perhaps LGBT or Buddhist, for example, while the need for a strong national identity wanes as a thing of the past.

What we see today is a major push back against this new world of potential new identities.

I am not naïve enough to believe that far more complicated and compelling political theories that may have far greater explanatory power do not exist; I am certain they do. However, perhaps this unintended consequence of internet access plays some role, however minor or major, and should not be ignored in the discussion. I hardly doubt I am the only one who has made this connection.

Perhaps it is an inevitable -and temporary- consequence on the road towards a global village, or, at the very least, a more global village.

So I am a curious guy who likes to find correlations between seemingly unrelated phenomena.

Hell, it might even be the alignment of the planets.

And if you have a better theory, or would like to add to it, I look forward to your response.