I remember, as a child, sitting on a cold, flat boulder, squinting against the sun as it peaked through the leaves above, while writing a story about fairies and magic. Walking barefoot in the dirt, chasing squirrels around tree trunks, and tip toeing across creeks was a very normal part of my childhood. I wasn’t pressed to see if I had any new friends on social media, I wasn’t distracted with selfies and posts I wanted to make for others to see what I was up to, and I wasn’t worried about taking time to literally smell the roses.
Our world has changed so much since then. The age of information, arguably responsible for at least as many positive social changes as the industrial revolution before it, is also a catalyst in the crippling of the next generation where human and spiritual connection are concerned. Gregory Bateson, a renowned human scientist and ecologist, warned that we were headed to a place in society where we would fail entirely to see our world as it is; connected. There are patterns in nature, patterns that connect us all, but we are isolating ourselves, viewing the world in distinct prisms, rather than as all interconnecting together. As a mother, I worry about the consequences of this increasing apathy. As a professor, I have seen it firsthand.
“Did you all make it to your voting stations yesterday?” Very few hands and nods followed. When I prodded to know why, the majority of my students expressed a complete disinterest. It wasn’t even about alienation; feeling like their voice didn’t matter. It was more than that. They didn’t care. This experience is not unique.
In great part, this apathy resulting from instant information and instant solutions is also tied to a growing sense of entitlement that we see as a result of instant gratification. How often do we hear people slam millenials? “Those entitled brats! Why, when I was their age….” etc. Frankly, we generation xers and baby boomers aren’t in much of a position to throw stones. The millenials are being raised and living in the world their parents and those before left for them. We too have become complacent and distracted. Our efforts to remain connected as people, to cultivate and increase empathy and compassion, and to feel a love for and relation to the natural world, must be a team effort. Currently, we seem to be racing towards technological advancements and ways of living that will make such connections increasingly more difficult to attain.
Robots. We have to talk about robots. And more specifically, having romantic relationships with robots. One report from a futurologist named Dr. Ian Pearson, suggests that by the year 2050, human on robot sex will be more common than human on human sex! Can you imagine what the world will be like for the generation after the millennials?!
Now, this isn’t all bad. If any of you have ever called yourself a Trekkie or binged on Star Trek episodes in secrecy, you know that there are a lot of exciting possibilities to look forward to. But our human advancements in technology should not be made at the price of our human connection. The extreme form of such apathy leads to dehumanization; the process by which people are psychologically able to view others as less than human, less valuable than themselves. Dehumanization is hardly a new tactic; we have seen examples of it all throughout history. Some of the greatest atrocities were successful because of it. But we risk seeing a lot more of that. We risk replacing meaningful relationships with artificial ones, at the expense of our own humanity. I know, that sounds intense. But unfortunately, this level of intensity is completely founded. It is going to get pretty wild if we cannot figure out how to control this social transformation and guide it, and our next generation, in a direction that includes humanism and empathy.
So, what do we do? We tell stories. We arm our children, our students or those who look up to us, and ourselves, with stories about the human experience. Stories about what others feel. We focus on increasing our awareness and understanding of others, in a way that allows us to experience compassion, empathy, and connection. And, we find nature again. We turn away from technology, from social media and the news and gaming, and turn towards the flower garden in our yard, or a hike on the outskirts of town. These little things will matter more and more as the years progress, and we cannot become complacent.
Today, I am helping my six year old write a story about fairies, and watching as my three year old plays in the dirt in my garden. I am enjoying it and encouraging it, but heaven knows I’ll be passing their tablets around and watching Netflix later. Sigh. I suppose I should end with a statement of humility. I struggle like everyone else. But I hope and believe that individually, within our families, and as a society, we can find a balance and retain our human connection if we just keep trying.
About the author
Monique has worked as a humanitarian and human rights activist for over ten years. She has a rich background working in non-profit as a project and accounts manager, fundraiser, community outreach and campaign manager, trainer, and director. Her activism has taken her to Kenya and Guatemala, where she conducted field research and focused on educational development. She is a professional performer and journalist; working as a television panelist on a nationally syndicated parenting news talk show. She completed a PhD candidate in Human Science with a specialization in transformative social change, and works as a professor of sociology and communications. Most importantly, she is a mother, and is passionate about making the world a better place for hers and all other children. You can find more of her work at www.momactivists.com
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