First Letter to Art - Human Nature, Technology, and Blown Up Babies
I'm happy to be writing to you in this new format, in these times. I think it feels like taking a coat of fresh paint to refresh my perspective on things and what better way to do it than in a new platform like Zonelets? [Note: This is now on AltSalt, which is a fine platform as well, ha]
This platform invokes a lot of technology, but as I approach my 31st birthday this Friday, I'm feeling many layers of emotions that are hard to parse through (Charlie Brown style).
Here's a list of things that have got me down on my birthday:
- Socioeconomic Upheaval
- Living with my family again
It definitely feels hard to be celebrating anything during these times! But ultimately even when I think of all these things I still try to find hope, and I would like to articulate some of those things that I look to that give me that hope.
Somehow, I think a lot of things really come down to the things that I'm learning as I'm being around my family. I've been back with them for the past several months to recover after grad school, but ultimately they bring forth a lot of deep memories and feelings within me. Pains, for all the mistakes they've made, but also hope at the same time, since ultimately many people are just like them, all trying their best to make the best lives for their families and children, but getting mixed up in the world.
Despite what platforms like social media might have us believe, I truly believe that only a very small percentage of the population does not have any empathy for other people. We, as any New Yorker knows, tend to go into our own worlds and walk as if we don't even see each other, but as soon as we see someone fall down in the street, you'll see people flock over to help, as if we're broken from our spell. And then, we all just move on. People are like that on a macro level too I think. Most of us would never truly wish harm on other people especially if we see that affect right in front of us, it's only when we are confused or angry or frustrated or misled that we end up losing empathy for others... Ultimately, the majority of people wish each other peace and goodwill, and it's only when our lines of communication break that we feel we can become cruel to each other...
That's my hope anyway!
I've talked a little about technology with you, so I won't dwell on that too much, and socioeconomic upheaval is way too big a conversation for me to talk about. But something that I think connects these things has been something I haven't brought up, neither in our past conversations nor in this writing so far, and it's that I've been taking an interest in the principles of child development, parenting, and psychology. Maybe the easiest entry point I can think of for all this is the idea that children need to live as children first. This might sound funny, but have you seen "Honey I Blew up the Kid?"
"Honey I Blew Up the Kid" if you don't know, is a sequel to the hit 80s live action Disney film "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." In "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" a goofy scientist father Wayne Szalinski, played by Rick Moranis, accidentally leaves his experimental shrink ray on and his children end up getting shrunk to ant size and must find their way home from their backyard. It's a technical marvel and became the basis for a Disney theme parks attraction. "Honey I Blew Up the Kid" is the sequel to this movie with a reversal, where a toddler is blown up to 50 feet high and begins to walk towards downtown Las Vegas, filled with product placement for the Hard Rock Cafe amongst other things. I actually consider it the better movie, but that's besides the point.
My point that I want to get to is that I love how this movie uses this sci-fi analogy for what happens when a child grows up too fast. The baby is still psychologically a toddler, so he thinks a truck is a toy truck, and he thinks a giant guitar sign at the Hard Rock Cafe is a guitar. But ultimately, he's still a child, so when he gets inevitably gets injured, he cries, and the audience feels sorry for him, because even though he's really big, he's not capable of being responsible. At that point, they realize the solution to stopping the baby is to send in mama, because that's the only thing the baby will respond to.
My point is a little on the nose here, but I think that lots of things in society are in this constant balancing act to rush children to become mature and responsible adults who can fend for themselves. This dysfunction is not only present in something like a sci fi contraption like a shrink ray, but also in how we push kids to think about college or careers from a young age, or how we punish them for being creative because we want them to have a stable career, or how we punish boys for being sensitive because men don't show their emotions ("man up" and all that).
I think this kind of problem in society has been a tricky balancing act in different eras, the problem of wanting our children to have a childhood, but also want them to be ready for adulthood. I do think with our current era, however, technology takes things to a whole new dimension, where parents are unable to keep up with the young crowd, with rapid change within a single generation. If a younger cousin or a niece or nephew were having struggles with something like cyberbullying or social media, I don't think most parents would even know how to begin to approach dealing with those things, whether from an emotional perspective or a technological perspective, and I think a lot of young people have to look to half a generation above them. I sense that now with many Gen Z friends looking to their Millennial friends for advice.
Anyway, the hope that I get is that young people are able to learn quicker and more capably than their predecessors with faster technology, dialogs, and better toolsets to converse. It's really remarkable, like you said last week in our chat about the students nowadays. It's also a bit terrifying as a slightly older person! But I think we, as any older generation, can only hope to shepherd the younger generation as best we can and have faith they'll make the right decisions. We can guide them, but ultimately our responsibility is to leave the future in the hands of young people (whose hands it was always in the whole time). We just have to be ready to show up like their mama or papa when the babies are in danger of getting themselves hurt.
I also think that this kind of balancing problem of allowing things to mature before they become adults is also prevalent in how we approach creating technology, and I think there's a thesis to be made that a lot of our problems in technology are as fundamental as the issues that a child faces psychologically... but I think that's a whole point to discuss for another piece entirely. I wanted to keep this first piece of writing short.
I also sense your perspective on going back to basics and getting away from the bloat of modern living, beyond just technology, is also going to be insightful in our conversations. I've already sensed that in our talks about growing gardens and such.
Anyway, like I said, I don't want to keep too long, so I'll eagerly await your response.