I’ve been feeling pretty nostalgic as of late.
I’m not sure if it’s the changing colors of the Fall leaves here in the Northeast, which always make me think of the many returns ‘back to school’ for almost two decades, or sitting outside the cafe in college with my portable CD player and headphones providing ample musical accompaniment as I’d write. Maybe it’s helping my parents pack up and move out of the house we were a family in from the age of 13 onward. Or maybe it’s watching the only sitcom these days that I tune into each week, The Goldbergs, which washes over me like a wave of reminiscences to my youth in a ‘1980 something’ blur.
Either way, there’s been something about the past. Something about how life used to be. Something that, in the words of Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon on 30 Rock – ‘I want to go to there.’
Watching my son walking talking, counting, and just becoming a little person all his own, with his own ideas, decisions, and views, even at two, has made me think more and more about the world he is going to grow up into. Most of all, I think about just how different that world is from the one I look back so fondly on.
We went to lunch as a family not too long ago and were talking when my wife nudged her head slightly to the table next to us. I glanced over, where I saw a young couple who had come in just before us. They were seated at the table, ready for a meal, like anyone else in a restaurant would be, but instead of talking to each other, both had their heads down, glued to the phones in their hands.
Yeah. I know. I’m already three steps into ‘Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!” territory, but I can’t help but feel a longing for a time that, despite the melodramas that (let’s face it) we created ourselves in our youth, was much simpler. Workplace tasks didn’t include making sure Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, yadda, yadda, yadda, were updated constantly.
A time when asking someone out on a date meant walking up to them and doing so in person or building up the nerve to pick up the phone and hope that a parent didn’t answer first. Now it’s a text, a Facebook message, a tweet. A ‘wanna hang out?’ There is something…lacking in it all.
Yes, yes. I realize that in many ways the Internet and Social Media have opened up the world to so many. Heck, would these thoughts running through my head have anywhere to go other than to my friends over a beer if it wasn’t for the power of the world wide webs?
There was once a time when the worst you had to worry about when doing something foolish was a friend taking a picture that they’d show your friends. Now, that picture can be seen by the world in a matter of seconds, with no way to take it back.
Bullies may have caused trouble at school or on the bus, but you could go home and take a break from it, regroup, feel you were safe. Today, computers, the internet and phones bring the bullying right there into the living room or bedroom of the child, giving them no break, no moment to gather thoughts – a constant bombardment of assault that would drive even the strongest adult to question their own sanity at times, I’m sure.
And this is the world my little boy is growing up in. How could I possibly be prepared for it?
I was blessed to have a family unit with caring parents and a great younger brother. I went to a high school that was so close-knit (don’t get me wrong. there were issues here and there. there always is with teens.) that when I wax nostalgic about it, my wife has often asked me if I went to school in a time warp or the 1950s.
I was very lucky and I want him to be too.
And yet, I can’t help but be fearful of the changing world we live in when I look back on the carefree days of riding my bike to the little league field, of walking to school or to the public pool, or being able to walk at night in my neighborhood to a friend’s house around the corner or just blocks away without worry for me or my parents.
They were wonderful times and I will treasure them always.
When I was in college, I wrote a paper about what was then, the ‘height’ of social media in that pre-myspace, pre-friendster, pre-facebook days – AOL Instant Messenger. My theory was that through the use of technology like Instant Messenger, we as a civilization were becoming less human. We were losing our humanity in the way we communicate.
If I had only known what was coming down the pipe in terms of ‘social media’ back then.
But, here we are. All sharing this world – a world made ever smaller by our ability to connect with someone halfway across it in a matter of seconds. Many of us still finding our way.
What kind of people will we be?
Whatever we choose will automatically play a role in who our children choose to be.
I can’t control the world around me and I know that. And that world around me is going to continue to grow with things I’ll never understand and yet, gets smaller by the day as technology grows. How it’s used, how it’s reacted to, that’s all up to the people behind it.
That would be us. And our children. And their children.
I can’t put my son in a bubble or create a world for him without the risks, the fears, and the distractions that come with technology, the internet and social media that have made me look back so much on my own youth as ‘so much simpler.’
But I can make sure the phones are put away at dinner time, or family time, or storytime, or that we make sure we get outside, go for walks, or just enjoy the world that we’ve been given. I can get on the ground and play with toys with him instead of turning on the television.
I can teach him that while there is vast, powerful technology in this world that can either bring us together or rip us apart, it is no match for the imagination of oneself or the true community of family and friends that are found simply reaching out a real hand, not a twitter handle.
I can show him how much this world, this earth, the world around us and everything in it that we walk by each day should be cherished and appreciated, less it fade away and disappear and become nothing more than an image on one of those magic screens.