The Future Always Wins

I Wear the Black Hat

“The future will retire undefeated but it always makes a terrible argument for its own success.” – Chuck KlostermanI Wear the Black Hat 

I recently completed another one of Chuck Klosterman’s poignantly observant dissections of popular culture, this time in the form of “I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with villains (real and imaginary)”. This book examines the role of the villain in popular culture and how society shapes perceptions and more importantly, lasting impressions of villainy within our minds. The Electric Funeral chapter starts off with a juxtaposition of those born in 1970 compared to those in 1990. For those born in  1970, the public was concerned about Porky’s, in 1990 it was Beavis & Butthead. During that 20 year span, it wasn’t the medium of television or music that was the concern, it was the message. After 1990 however, this all changed. The medium has now become the concern.

When a father looks at his typically unfocused four-year-old hypnotically immersed with an iPad for three straight hours, he thinks, “Somehow, I know this is bad”. It does not matter that the four-year-old might be learning essential skills on that device; what matters is the way such an intense, insular, digital experience will irreparably alter the way he’ll experience the non-simulated world. It’s normalizing something that was once abnormal, and it’s distancing the child from reality.

And the worst part is that there is no other option. If a father stops his son from embracing the online universe, he’s stopping him from becoming a competitive adult; it’s like refusing to teach him how to drive a car or boil water. You may worry about the ancillary consequences, but you can’t take away the experience. Avoiding the Internet is akin to avoiding everything that matters… The future makes the rules (Klosterman, p.132).

The purpose of this blog post is not to rehash the debate around electronic device use and children. The research exists and clearly indicates that nothing digital should replace human interaction at any stage of development, especially in ages 0-2. That being said, we live in a world where people are tethered to their mobile devices and to use ours with the expectation that our littlest and most observant housemates are to abstain is an unlikely and hypocritical goal.

The overarching theme of this section however is that the future always wins.

The easiest way for any cutthroat person to success is to instinctively (and relentlessly) side with the technology of tomorrow, even if that technology is distasteful. Time will eventually validate that position. The only downside is that – until that validation occurs – less competitive people will find you annoying and unlikable (Klosterman, p.132).

This argument certainly seems to hold water when making comparisons to the competitive world of technology. When Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer was quoted in 2007 as saying that the iPhone had “no chance of gaining competitive market share” – he was not siding with the technology of tomorrow. If you listen to stories from within Apple at that time, most people found Steve Jobs highly unlikable. So Jobs’ was pushing the technology of tomorrow and Ballmer was clinging to the technology of the present and ultimately, that’s what caused Apple’s market share to surge and Microsoft’s to plummet.

Now let’s draw comparisons to teaching. Classroom teaching in the present form is a profession firmly established and for many, deeply rooted in the past. Aversion to change and nostalgia for bygone eras are concepts and ideas familiar to many teachers. So although teaching being compared to Microsoft may be a bit of a stretch, the idea that new technologies are being ignored is not. But like the father watching his child play with the iPad, teachers (and parents too for that matter) DO have a choice and exercise that autonomy whenever possible. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it model” understandably thrives in public education where spare time is scarce and teacher resources and lessons are years in the making. Decisions to adapt and evolve practice are slow and painful

So here we are in 2014 when more and more people born after 1990 (notice that I am resisting the urge to use the ‘digital native’ label here) are moving into the workforce and making their way into the world. We have a generation who have grown up never not knowing what it was like in the Pre-Google Era…. should we be worried? I don’t think so. This type of nostalgia is no different than the nostalgia experienced by any previous generation. Yearning for a simpler time is something that has always been an aspect of generational gaps. It’s just the concept of what “simpler” is that changes.

So this post is merely intended to be part observation, part reading reflection, and part social commentary. Do you use technology with your child? I’d love to hear your opinions and thoughts on this. I know what studies say, but how does this work in your household? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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