Raising a Terminator

Jack's Art Synapse

As I gazed on Jack, my four year old, at our neighborhood park I could see his intense little blue eyes darting back and forth scanning the landscape. He seemed to be in a bit of a trance.  “Jack” I said. “Jack sweety, what are you thinking about?”  “I am not thinking, I am zooming in so I can run faster” and with that he bolted across the green field, and yes he was fast, super fast even, as he dodged other toddlers and weaved around trees and dogs to get to the other side.

I was left thinking about the use of  his term “zooming in”. Obviously this is a term he has picked up on from using our iPad. I have taught him, or should I say he has taught himself, how to pinch, zoom, swipe and multi-touch his way through the levels of his education apps and Disney Games. Ask him to play Pudding Monsters or Where’s My Water and he will put you, the adult, to shame with his ability to solve puzzles before you have even figured out how the game works.  I imagine that while he was in his trance at the park, his mind looked the the inside of the Terminator’s, scanning the landscape, identifying objects, people and animals so he could chart his fastest pathway to the other side of the park.  To him, something simple like getting to the other side of the park involves solving a mathematical and physics problem. He was computing. I see this in his art too. The cover photo for this post is his art, I call it his synapses. I chose it to show a glimpse inside of his mind and how he connects pathways, forms intersections and sees the world.

We all compute to some degree. It happens when we choose a grocery line to or pick which lane we want to drive in on the freeway. Yet, the majority of our choices are often driven by our emotional need to get to destinations in life  faster, most efficiently and without incident.  Look at politicians or business people, they can have tons of irrefutable data in front of them, yet they will still choose the decision that makes them more popular, more rich or more likely to advance in their careers. These are all choices that solve an emotional need.

I believe our kids are going to be different. They are growing up as digital natives, learning to solve problems more analytically than we did at their age. They don’t know another way.  I am pretty sure when I was four all my decisions were based on what felt good not logic but in both of my kids, aged 2 and 4, I already see them more likely lead their decision making process with data not a gut feeling. I saw it at the park yesterday and see it when Jack my four year old finds a penny on the ground and he immediately computes that if he chooses to save it versus spend it on candy, he is one step closer to a new game…one step away from more data and he always chooses the data. Truett is little harder to read because his language skills are still forming, but he loves me take pictures and and video of him and his brother and he will meticulously stare at this digital data and tell me which ones are his favorites by watching those videos or viewing those particular pictures over and over again. He is analyzing the data and making choices.

It has been especially interesting and sometimes heartbreaking to watch those in their teen years that were not born digital natives per se but now have access to the vast digital data on hand. They have grown up in a digital age but weren’t born with iPads in hand like my children, yet now have all this data at their disposal and ways to share their emotions with a click of a button to Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. They still predominantly lead their decision making process with feelings and it is why we have seen this trend in over-sharing, cyber bullying and social media depression. The privacy barrier has been broken and emotional outbursts and mistakes are being recording for posterity and more painfully for future character evaluation when say they want to get a job or run for office. Certainly all of us made mistakes when we were younger, but we have the luxury of keeping them to ourselves because Facebook didn’t exist yet. Recently I had an interesting conversation with a friend where we talked about at one point does the recording of a mistake digitally become so prevalent that is the norm for everyone to have these pasts exposed, therefore rendering them irrelevant?

The inherent and reliant need to have computational data on hand to make decisions is what I view as the first evolution towards cyborgs. I am not thinking of the cyborgs found in movies like the Terminator, Robocop, or iRobot which are formed by human, digital and mechanical parts, but the cyborgs-like decisions that are forming  minds of the digital natives we are raising. They are no longer just being raised on the five food groups they are also being served a side of data at the breakfast and dinner table and in the car.  They crave this data like they do food and by giving it to them we are wiring their brains to take in data differently and use it a more efficiently to zoom in and navigate life.

I am a huge proponent of encouraging children to learn and express digitally, but I am equally an advocate for the analog life. I spend hours doing analog art projects with my children, teaching them to cook, dancing to records, showing them the ways of an old typewriter and teaching them how to take pictures with *gasp* a non-digital vintage SLR camera.  Ignore for a second the irony of me proving and documenting my analog life through digital applications, but I believe keeping a balance between analog and digital is what is necessary to preserve the spirit of craftmanship, artistry and emotional humanity.  Sometimes  an emotional decision is the right decision so we need to teach our children to use both data and emotion as they navigate through life’s decisions, lest we live in a the world with a bunch of emotionless terminators. Back to Skynet I go.

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