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  • Writer's pictureDana Webster

Who's Minding The Kids?

I had a dream the other night in which I time-travelled back to the 70s and found myself

among a group of young adults, university-aged, who shared their lives, their beds, their joints with one another. It was a motley crew of men and women, straight and gay. The tone of the dream was one of idealism, hope and confidence - the world was their oyster kind of vibe. There was love and vulnerability. There were disagreements and betrayals. These were deep and varied friendships based on respect, humour, and camaraderie. I loved being a part of it.

At one point, we were all just hanging out in the apartment kitchen which led into the living room and bedrooms beyond. It was a lazy weekend morning - no one had to be anywhere, no one had to rush off to class or a part-time job. The aroma of coffee melded with the smells of frying eggs and cigarettes. We chattered and joked with an intimacy that belonged only to us.

Because I knew what they didn't about the future, about where their lives were headed, I decided to tell them a story. I talked about the internet, iPhones, and social media. I told them that in the future, gatherings such as this would include phones, scrolling, and texting, that instead of just being in the space together, here, people would simultaneously be engaged with strangers they'd never meet or learn to care about in the same way they cared about each other. I foretold of disconnection and of silos, of public shaming and cancel culture. As I spoke, they giggled uncomfortably, unsure of what to think.

What I noticed most was the eye contact. We were looking at each other, reading reactions, listening to thoughts and opinions. I saw smiles, and wonder, and curiosity in their expressions. No one was looking down at the phone in their lap, no one was pulled away from the moment by goings-on outside of that room. We were present to the conversation and to each other.

I lament that new generations of young people will never know what that feels like. They will never know the intimacy of being present with other human beings who are right in front of them. Today, we straddle two worlds almost constantly - the one that exists in its physicality, its solidity, its realness and the one that is virtual, i.e. not real. How we have managed to give so much of our attention and personal power over to people we do not know, to causes we didn't know we cared about, to opinions we didn't know we were supposed to have is one I find truly disheartening.

No, it's not all bad. The internet is a marvel of our age. I can't even imagine my days without it. It is possible to turn it off and go outside to play, for sure. However, its presence persists. I sort of liken it to TV-watching when I was a kid. The difference, though, was that kid shows were aired on Saturday mornings. That's it. And, we had parents who limited our screen time. The networks and our parents were being the adults. With the internet and social media and texting and memes, the adults have left the building. Worse, they are as fully immersed and tuned out as the kids are. Can we really not understand why our young people are so anxiety ridden?

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men. ~ Ayn Rand

One of the things about getting older is you can look back, some times with rose-coloured glasses, and take stock of what was working and what wasn't. Not that anyone is listening to us old farts but we do have important things to say. What saddens me is that generations of people will not know the freedom of being in the moment, of not being watched or tracked or marketed to, of having private thoughts unencumbered by the thousands of other voices that have taken up residence in their heads.

Me, in my own head, with my own thoughts.

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