Thursday, October 26, 2017

Archer in a Blindfold (A Look at Modern Parenting)

"You have an auto car!" my daughter said excitedly from the back seat.

"Huh?" I wasn't sure what she was talking about.

"I saw the button up there. It says 'AUTO.' That means it drives on its own."

"What button? This car doesn't drive on its own, but if you tell me where the button is, I'll explain what it does."

It is the button for my driver's side window, and it means that the window descends completely with a single press instead of having to be held down continuously until fully open. I explain this, but then I am struck by a realization that I hadn't really had before. I am talking to my six-year-old. She has another decade before she will learn to drive. Will she learn to drive? 

"By the time you're old enough to learn to drive, though, it probably really will be an automatic car."

"Cool," she responds absently. She's moved on to other thoughts, humming along to the four thousandth playing of the Kidz Bop version of "Seven Years," which is being broadcast through my car's stereo system from one of her many personalized Spotify playlists via Bluetooth. A thing that holds no marvel for her.

I'm lost in a dense web of quickly connecting thoughts. What will teaching someone to drive look like in ten years? If she doesn't have the skills to drive, will that be limiting somewhere down the line? It's not that big of deal. I don't know how to bake my own bread, and that's not a big deal. Not all skill sets need to be preserved. Wait. Maybe it is a big deal that I don't know how to bake bread. What other skills are we losing? What do we lose with them? Will there be rogue parents who teach their children 'old-fashioned' driving? Will we be legally allowed? Will we have to buy antique cars with outdated features to do so? What else will she not know how to do? But think of all the things she gets to do that weren't even a fantasy when you were her age. It's a trade off. Everything's a trade off. 

At this point we arrived at our destination and my thoughts shifted to the minutiae of getting two kids safely out of the car and into the house. It didn't come back to me until I was in bed, trying to sleep.

It's not just automatic cars. It's everything. As I've mentioned before, I'm homeschooling my daughter, so that means that the parameters of curriculum are on me. I get to decide what knowledge is necessary for her, and it's a responsibility I take seriously. It makes the future-focused concerns of parenting emerge from the fuzzy darkness in a crystal clear way. I've read Outliers. I know about the 10,000-hour rule. What she learns now matters, will shape her skillset in the future, will determine where she places her focus somewhere down the road, will open some doors and shut others. It's not that I think my choice of which math workbook I buy will make or break her future career choices, but I do know that these early years are framing her worldview and her interests in a way that lasts. That matters.

The New Yorker ran a cartoon this summer entitled "Things I'm Afraid My Daughter Will be Doing in 2026."

It included anxiety about the continued encroachment of technology on our lives and also anxiety about the downfall of society as a whole. Her daughter, in her mind, has equal chances of spending her teenage years "hacking into my Facebook account and reading all the mean things I said about her as a baby" or "watching a flame in a busted-out TV like those kids in 'The Terminator.'" 

It feels like a coin flip. Heads: a world so technologically advanced as to be unrecognizable and threaten the core principles of society. Tails: a world in impoverished, dystopian ruin where the institutions of education, government, and social order have completely broken down. In the meantime, what songs would you like me to add to your Spotify list this week, baby? 

I try not to fall into paranoia about the future. I try to remain hopeful, but the fast-paced news cycle bringing a constant barrage of doomsday scenarios intermixed with constant signals that the future will be nothing like the present is whiplash inducing. Today I read about Jeff Flake resigning from a career in politics because (as he said in his speech announcing the decision) "our children are watching." He couldn't bear the thought of contorting himself into a Trumpian pretzel of debased values in order to win his primary. Today I also read that Amazon Key will now allow delivery drivers to enter your house when you're not home so that you can get your packages with ease. (A move that is surely making a blueprint for a future when the human element of the delivery is removed entirely, and I can't decide if the thought of robots entering my house when I'm not home is better or worse than the thought of flesh-and-blood delivery drivers doing so.) 

I'm prone to anxiety and overanalyzing things, I realize, but I don't think it's far-fetched to think that the world my daughter enters won't look much like the world today in many ways. Truth be told, even the five-year age gap between my children is a big difference. When my daughter was born in 2010, I didn't have a smartphone. My son, born in 2016, has been video recorded and had near-daily pictures snapped of him since the moment he arrived in this world. Their earliest experiences of reality are already very different from one another, and they were born in the same decade. If my daughter sees no marvel in the pleasures of Spotify or Osmo games, my son will see even less reason to be impressed. He will probably see things that I would have looked at as alien technology as outdated relics from a distant and irrelevant past. And we're talking about five years. 

How do you raise kids in this environment?! 

I realize this is a question born of privilege and surrounded by privilege. Plenty of people throughout human history have raised their children in times full of much more perilous uncertainty. People have raised children through genocides and the ravages of active war. I'd much rather ask myself how I am going to prepare my daughter for an uncertain future career than watch the Black Plague claim my children before they escape infancy. Things aren't so bad. I know that. 

We focus on the constantly oscillating matrix of fear and hope wrapped up in technological advancements. Maybe we'll all lose our jobs when the robots take over and end up without a means to support ourselves in a pseudo-capitalist society under Hunger Games-esque wealth inequality . . . . or. . . maybe we'll be freed up from menial and dangerous labor to pursue nobler acts like art and philosophy, enacting the Greek ideal life without the unethical practice of forcing slaves to make our wages. Again. Toss up. 

In some ways the uncertainty is freeing. Instead of chasing after some specific future end point, it strips us down to our bare principles. What do I teach my child? To love. To learn. To think. To question. To explore. To experiment. To analyze. To grow. To adapt. 

And maybe also how to make electricity from a potato--just in case our robot overlords throw us into eternal darkness. 

No comments:

Post a Comment