How Will My Kids Be Different?

Someone asked me in a Facebook thread how different I think my kids will be when they're my age.  Facebook isn't the place for things like that.  Blogs are.

Having been paid to prognosticate many times in the past, I've learned that it's remarkably stupid to believe you can get your head around anything other than trends and concepts we ought to collectively pay attention to.  The second you put a stake in the ground and say "flying cars by 2036," you start to look like an ass.  But what ends up helping you predict are the various societal big questions that necessitate a solution in the near future.  Latch on to those, apply some intelligence, and maybe you'll be in a place to talk about what happens in 37 years, when my son has his 40th birthday.

I can't tell you about flying cars, or lightsabers or whether or not we'll have cured cancer.  I can tell you there are three things that worry me.  No, not the minutiae regarding whether or not we'll get creamed by a big asteroid, or whether some rogue terrorist organization will get their mitts on a nuclear weapon.  They're things that concern the dynamic of how we interact with one another.  And they're worrisome.

Interpersonal Contact

Nothing worries me more than the loss of intimate personal relationships.  If we can't communicate with one another on a meaningful level, we can't come together to protect our collective interests.  We also can't empathize effectively, learn tolerance or form healthy family bonds.

Younger people these days seem to celebrate the notion of keeping others at arm's length.  It was wonderful that everyone collectively began to understand introverts and how they operate.  It's another thing entirely to celebrate one's detachment from meaningful relationships and look forward to replacing real human relationships with technology.

That's weird for an introvert tech-head like myself to say.  But it's profound.  Everywhere I look, I see people applying technology in ways that "protect" them from having to communicate face-to-face with other people.  I think about recent college grads who managed to get to their early twenties without having had the experience of striking up a conversation with a total stranger, or having to use a face-to-face visit or a phone call in place of an e-mail or text.

Couple that with our society's seemingly increasing fear of germs, bacteria, viruses and the environment in general and you've got a recipe for isolation and loneliness.  It also doesn't help that we somehow believe our safety is continually under threat, and that we should react to threats with increased isolation.  I mean, parents have to meet their kids at the bus stop.  Doesn't that defeat the purpose of taking the bus to begin with?  Kids don't roam their neighborhoods looking for pickup games of stickball anymore.  Their interaction with other kids is scheduled and structured.

This is what I'm worried about - that my kids will never develop the relationship skills they need to communicate meaningfully with other human beings.  And they'll be in a sea of kids who have been raised in similar conditions, who also won't know how to relate.

Celebration of Failure

It also seems that wherever I look, we're celebrating the development of a new approach to achieving goals and getting stuff done.  It relies less on expertise, more on brute force.

The pundits are all telling us to fail faster and fail better.  Everywhere I turn it's fail, fail, fail.  I'm a fan of learning by doing, and I also believe that should you fail at trying to do something, it's really advantageous to learn from it and land in a spot where you can more easily learn where you made the wrong turn and avoid repeating the error.

But I don't believe in celebrating failure.  Failure means that somebody is out money, time, emotional investment or all three.  Failure means that somebody who was depending on you to succeed got let down.  Failure means your reputation just took a hit.

It's okay to learn from failure, but it's not okay to have to perform tasks without having the requisite knowledge, or without calling in the expertise you need in order to make something successful.  Too often, that's what we ask young people to do today - if you don't have the guidance you need, don't stop, keep going because you'll fail and the failure will grant you some sort of epiphany.

We're seriously taking a look at companies like Google, and giving them points for how they handle failure.  And it's taken as a given that this iterative try-fail, try-fail, try-succeed approach is somehow superior to using a considered approach and the appropriate subject matter expertise. to get where you need to go.

I don't want my kids learning that.  And I'm afraid that if they believe there's no consequences for failure, they'll be okay settling for it.  And I'm worried that culturally, we'll still be celebrating failure when they're 40.

Devaluing of Expertise

Speaking of "appropriate subject matter expertise," our culture is moving toward not valuing it.  I'm not sure what's responsible - runaway corporatism or the Celebration of Failure or both.  In any case, we're starting to devalue the notion of doing things that few other people know how to do well.

Maybe you teach your kids how to work on cars, or to play the piano or how to paint landscapes.  Maybe your kid's elementary school teacher told you to consider private gymnastics or dance lessons because they recognized a natural talent and want to see it developed.  Maybe your kid is in the robotics club and shows that they're miles ahead of other kids their age in understanding electronics.

Even if your kid does something really well - better than almost anyone - our business culture won't reward it.  Businesses no longer strive for perfection.  If presented with a choice - do it perfectly or do it at 80 percent for a lower cost, most businesses will choose the latter.  That means that subject matter expertise and talent are devalued and human resources are viewed as interchangeable and replaceable.

What does that mean for a child whose talents ought to be nurtured?  How does that child, as an adult, achieve satisfaction in his career without the positive reinforcement of being valued for his expertise or talent?  The wherewithal to see where those talents rank him against his peers?

This devaluing of what makes individuals truly special is worrisome.  I'm worried about my children living in a world where their contribution to society doesn't align with their talents or the things they work at being good at.

How Will Things Be Different?

So, if you're asking me what things will look like in almost 40 years, I can't tell you.  What I can tell you is what the things are that are currently manifesting and that worry me.  These three are things I'm paying attention to, just to see how they'll affect the world my kids are growing up in.