Monday, November 13, 2017

One Is The Loneliest Number: Smartphones And Our Lost Generation of Kids

Disrupt (verb) 1. to cause disorder or turmoil; to radically change; to destroy

When did the world shift? When did the world turn on its axis, never, ever to be the same again?  When did life, as we know it, change forever?

When you are standing in the middle of history in the making, it's almost impossible to make such judgments. No one would have predicted on October 31st, 1517, that the act of the German monk Martin Luther would so disrupt his world.  He nailed a list of 95 complaints to the door of a local house of worship. Within a generation, a 1,500 year old way of life collapsed. Kingdoms fell, revolutions rose, wars raged and the cry for soul freedom was given voice.

All because of one event.

Who could have have predicted that the failed political coup of an unemployed house painter named Adolf Hitler on November 8, 1923 would one day lead to the most deadly conflagration of the twentieth century? That the defiant act of a tired housekeeper named Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a bus on December 1, 1955, would give birth to the civil rights movement?  Who could have predicted that June 29th, 2007 was another such disruptive day in human history?   

That's the first day the very first Apple I-Phone was sold.  Hard to fathom it was only a little more than ten years ago, barely a blip from a history perspective, that the first true consumer friendly smartphone was available for purchase.  Just one decade later, in 2017, 1,000,000,000 I-Phones are in the hands of users from the Antarctic to Zimbabwe.  More than 2,200,000,000 folks worldwide have and use smartphones for just about anything and everything: buying and selling, talking and texting, surfing the net and going to school, dating and mating, starting revolutions and starting businesses, and all with a device small enough to fit in your pocket or your purse. 

Utopia, right?  June 29, 2007 was a great day! Thank God for disruption!

At least that's what the four horsemen of the tech revolution want us to believe, need us to believe: Google and Apple and Facebook and Amazon.  They make billions of dollars on such disruption: changing so radically and so fast how we human beings relate to one another, everywhere, all the time.  In our families.  In our communities. At work.  In government.  At church.  As consumers. There is nowhere left on earth that our handheld devices do not disrupt.

But as the comedian and blogger Baratunde Thurston recently said, "Just because you are a good software engineer does not mean you are a good social engineer."  So even as we revel in the disruption and benefits of technology, we also need to try and understand just what this all means for life with one another.  For the quality and the fabric and the depth of all our social relationships: around the dining room table and at temple, and in the voting booth and in the neighborhood, and perhaps most important for our kids, our children, they, who, in the words of author and San Diego State University Professor of Psychology Jean M. Twenge, are "IGen".  As in "Generation IPhone", the young adults and teens and tweens and children of today.  They were born with smartphones in hand.

In a sobering September 2017 Atlantic magazine article, "Have Smartphones Destroyed A Generation?" Twenge's research on kids born between 1995 and 2012, is heartbreaking.  How have smartphones and social media changed our kids' lives? Lenge's research shows that from 2007 on, these young people report spending less time hanging out with friends, are less likely to seek a driver's license, are dating less, are much more likely to report feeling more lonely and more left out, and are less likely to get enough sleep. 

But here's the line from her story that just slayed me.  IGen kids actually have more leisure time than past generations, in part because they do not work jobs as much. "So what are they doing with all that time? They are on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed."  That's why reports of depression and anxiety are soaring among high school and college students.  And suicide attempts.  And anxiety.  Imagine looking into a mirror/screen all alone for so many hours and seeing all of these supposedly "great" lives going on and wondering and worrying, "Why can't that be me?"  Imagine being so tethered to a machine that you sleep with it, look at it first thing when you wake up, last thing before you go to bed.

When did the world change?  In years to come, folks in the future just may say June 29th, 2007.  What disrupted everything?  You are holding it in your hand or it is very nearby: chirping, chiming, and always calling: to us and to our children too. 

How will we answer the call of history? May God grant us wisdom and courage for the living of these disruptive days.

(Illustration by Jasu Hu)

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Best Thing About a Really Bad Day? There's Always Tomorrow!

“You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don't help.”
--Bill Watterson, "Calvin and Hobbes" comic

Think you had a bad day? Maybe it started with a lukewarm cup of pumpkin spice coffee from Dunkin' Donuts you failed to discover the clerk had mistakenly given to you in the drive-thru. Stomach churning traffic on the Pike heading into the city for work.  Did you burn the family dinner, go from gourmet cook to culinary disaster in sixty seconds?  Or you forgot to hit "save" on the big project just before your computer crashed.

There's bad days.  And then there's really bad days.

Like those endured by Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish, who in the recently completed epic 2017 Major League Baseball World Series lost not one, but two games, to the eventual champion Houston Astros. Darvish's earned run average (the number of runs he'd have given up if he pitched a full nine innings) was 21.6, more akin to football than the sandlot. In the seventh and deciding game, he and his team fell behind so quickly, 5-0, that most folks in the stands hadn't even bitten into their second hot dog.  And he went down to defeat in front of 54,124 heartbroken hometown fans.

No place to hide. A very public and a very, very, very bad day (night actually).

But give Darvish credit. He didn't have to, wasn't expected to, yet post game Darvish faced a scrum of reporters and reflected on his performance.  Speaking through an interpreter, Darvish, whose first language is Japanese, said, "I had bad days and that means somebody else had a great day." With that bit of eastern wisdom, Darvish packed up his stuff and went back home for an offseason of wondering "why?" 

Why do we have such bad days?  Why on one grey morning when we awaken, do we step into a tidy "package" the new puppy left bedside because we were tardy in letting him out? Why does the toast blacken and the train arrive late? Why are the kids surly and the new boss fuming as we rush into the office at 9:15?  Why is the printer out of toner only when we need to print out the movie tickets? Why does the toilet overflow just as guests arrive for the big dinner party? Why, when the catcher clearly called for a slider, low and outside, did you instead throw a big fastball, a meatball, right down the fat part of the plate?  That one is outta here and still in orbit!

You had a bad day.  We all have bad days.

Filled with bad impulses as we speak, when clearly we should just keep our mouths shut. Bad breaks when it seems like the universe conspires against us.  Bad streaks when we can't catch just a little luck. And so in the midst of this day. How goes it? Good? Bad? Middling? Are you pitching a no-hitter or watching the baseballs just fly out of the park?

Here's the good news about bad days. 

They end.  Eventually you pull your car into the driveway.  You walk in the front door. You remove the bullseye from your back and you sit down and you take a deep breath and you thank God that this one bad day is finally, almost over. Because the truth is that with this one amazing life, beautiful and broken, ugly and gorgeous, miraculous and mundane: every single new morning we get to start it all over again. Our creator mercifully and faithfully, gives to each of us a brand new day to begin again. Every twenty four hours. Guaranteed. A reset. A do over. A reshuffle. 

And so even while those bad days are truly bad, these bumps along the way can make our good days that much sweeter. That much more graceful.  That much more surprising and wonderful.  So the person in front of you at Dunkin' Donuts pays for your coffee in an act of unexpected kindness. And the traffic into Boston is light and you find a parking spot on the first try.  And dinner is a hit with the kids and they actually ask for seconds.  And you finish that work project early enough to watch the game on TV.

Good days. Bad days. had a bad day.  At least you didn't lose the seventh game of the World Series.  And guess what? There's always next year and yes, there's always tomorrow too.  Who knows? It just might be a good day!

Here's hoping....