The Changing Paradigm of Human Existence (or The Case of the Looking Down Society)

My daughter and I were playing together the other morning when she saw my iPhone on the coffee table. She reached for it, “phone….I game.” (In a super cute voice.)

I admit, I’ve given my iPhone to her from time to time, mostly to play interference during extremely tense moments. But, she’s far from being a digital child. She doesn’t play on the iPhone more than a few minutes at a time, and this happens sparingly. What surprises me is that she’s only 21 months old. With the little screen time she gets, she’s already learned that phones have games and that she wants to play them (she doesn’t ask to play games in other contexts). Never mind that she used a full sentence, in context, to clearly express her needs.

I see teenagers that text their way through the day, posting to Facebook or Instagram, or whatever else, never giving their parents more than a grunt or “huh?” as their fingers tip tap away.

A colleague recently told me story. He was on vacation, driving down the highway when he passed a burning car. He yelled, “Hey, do you see that!? Look, a burning car!” expecting his wife and 12 year old son to press their faces to the window and scream, “Wow!” He got crickets. They couldn’t care less about the burning car. Or, maybe they didn’t hear him. Either way, they were so engrossed in playing with their iPhones, texting their friends, updating Facebook, checking out the latest entertainment news, engaged in some sort of mobile learning, that my colleague didn’t seem to matter, at least not in that moment. Nor, did the burning car.

You’ve heard it plenty of times. Maybe you’ve uttered the words yourself.

“Kids just don’t talk to each other.”

“Doesn’t anyone write letters anymore?”

“It’s the end of society.”

“Kids don’t appreciate anything.”

“They’ll never get along in the world.”

Or will they?

Maybe, just maybe, we’re afraid we won’t get along in their world…

It’s the same old cliché – parents just don’t get their children. And, children just don’t get their parents.

We all have life experiences that make us who we are – what we’re used to, what we’ve been through. They form our sense of tradition, our sense of what’s right, our sense of being.

I would argue that the paradigm for meaningful existence is changing. Is it for the worse? For the better? Neither, really….it’s just changing. Just like it did for Great Grandma when cars and planes were invented, and seeing the world became a part of meaningful existence. Just like it did for mom and dad when TVs became ubiquitous, and watching the Late Show was part of life. Just like it did for me when the Internet came about and access to information began to define my world. Then came cell phones, smart phones, tablets, wearable technologies, and who knows what’s next. The world is ever changing, and now this change is exponential. We have to adapt.

Do you see what I’m getting at?

Just because our children interact with the world differently, just because they’d rather text than talk, just because a burning car doesn’t get their attention, it doesn’t mean the world’s gone to heck and children these days will never get by, never succeed. After all, it’s their world they’re growing into. They’ll fit in, they’ll adapt. We’ll change enough to get along, and we, too, will be happy, happy knowing we had it better in the good ol’ days.

I’ve come to terms with it. The world is changing and maybe there’s a new paradigm for human existence (though a New York Times article I read recently scares me a bit.. But, to play fair, I wonder – will our children have a meaningful existence? Does it matter if they don’t appreciate the things I do – good conversation, a great movie, a beautiful view, time to think without distraction?

I’m a little uneasy with my daughter’s future. If she already yearns to play iPhone games at 21 months, having had little exposure to mobile devices, what is she going to be like in 15, 20, 30 years? Will she be a zombie, her gaze forever tied to a screen? Forever looking down, avoiding the world.

I don’t know the answer to that. The human race is tenacious, but it’s got to contend with a brave new world, a world dominated by always on, always connected mobile devices. I can’t help being excited, though, excited for the future of mobile learning (yep, had to get to mobile learning at some point). For those of us currently in the mobile learning industry, smartphones and tablets have only been around for a fraction of our lives. Many of us grew up without the Internet. Sure, the discussion around mobile learning has existed since the early 1990s, but the technological advances that make it so exciting are much more recent, and we’ve all had relatively little experience with mobile learning. By the time my daughter graduates college, she’ll have had mobile devices in her life for 21 years. She will have lived with them from day one. As will have the learning experts, the mobile experience designers, and the developers. I’m a little worried, but have a strong hunch that my daughter will turn out okay. Maybe for the better. And I can’t help but wonder – dream – what will her mobile learning experience be?

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Mike Freeman

    This post is spot on. Seems all the pundits are lamenting the disconnection of young people with their eyes down on devices. What they’re missing is that they are really connected differently, not less.

    Also, adults have long complained about young people having their heads buried in a book or game, etc instead of staying engaged in the room. This seems to be a type of “flow” where someone is really hyper engaged to the point of excluding other stimuli. That’s not necessarily bad, but it is frustrating for a parent or teacher used to being the center of attention!

    1. Kristy

      Thanks for the comment! There does seem to be this expectation by the previous generations of what is socially acceptable communication. However, these are often the same people that type messages in all caps (hi mom). We are only now realizing that it is possible to develop a social presence online that can provide meaningful and deep relationships. I think the real key is trying to adapt to this new world instead of fighting it.

  2. Corey Butler

    I couldn’t have put it better myself. Change is so often feared, I find myself saying to colleagues who comment on the digital and technological engrossment of the new generation – “I wonder what the parents of the teens who used the first telephones said? Probably the same criticisms you’re giving right now!”

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