Change management

Posted: December 11, 2018 in Consequences, Controversial, Happiness, Kids, Midlife, Philosophy, Reflection

When you get to the point of having kids, one of the impacts is that you likely get to see how much things change between your experience and theirs.  There are countless things written about how the pace of change is higher than it has ever been and how it is growing faster and faster. Even with regards to written information I saw something that said what was produced (mainly on the internet) in the last two years exceeds everything created in the prior two hundred.  I used to have an expectation when I was very young and had just learned about the library that by the time I died I could read everything. I realized how wrong that was pretty quickly and this pace of creation has sealed the deal. Asides from not wanting to read everything any longer (there are far more topics I really have no desire to explore in any way either fictionally or non-fictionally) even in the areas I am intrigued about there is far more material than I could ever consume in a lifetime.  

This is just one area where the pace of change is incredible, but the things that drive me loopy as a parent and make me wonder how different it is from my parent’s experience with me as a child continue to increase all the time.  I am a pretty simple guy at heart and I’ve settled in to a belief that I can keep myself quite content and busy for decades with access to my library and a streaming service or two when I want some video entertainment. Even some of these things, that are normal now, are still a recent novelty and that was more of what I have been thinking about for the last few weeks.

As I study history it is fascinating how even within someone’s lifetime and certainly just a little beyond that, nearly everything has changed incredibly.  Just 100 years ago (which can be in a few centenarian’s lifetimes even now) WWI was still going on. Weapons that caused ghastly amounts of damage and suffering were being used such as the machine gun and the various forms of gas on the battlefield.  Gone were the “gentlemanly” days of battle when things happened mostly one on one. Many of the people who were living then could have remembered back to the Civil War and carnage they entailed and been amazed and how much more killing could be done just a few decades later.

Depression era family

People now in their late 70s and older would have been alive for at least part of the Great Depression.  The lack of ability to get even the most basic or resources was everywhere and is a stark contrast to the “worry” we have today with the vast social safety nets put in place by most developed nations.  Food pantries, unemployment and other social welfare programs and other safety measures exist to at least provide some cushion in times of hardship. Life in the US at that time was already far ahead of most other nations, in part because we had escaped the devastation of lives and infrastructure that most of the rest of the developed world had gone through.  The progression through WWII and the decades after was ever increasing and as technology started having a daily impact lives were transformed.

The home became full of gadgets and appliances.  Washing was no longer done in a tub with a washboard and elbow grease and clothes left to dry on the line but instead was able to be done in a machine that did a lot of the work.  Initially you still had to run the clothes through rollers to press the water out, but quickly faster spinning machines were able to suck the water out using the power of centrifugal force and clothes dryers appeared.  One could say progress slowed on the clothes washing front but even recently we have seen HE devices that use less water and cleaning products and keep driving innovation forward. Every other aspect of home life was transformed in similar ways.  Brooms and dust pans gave way to vacuums and Roombas. Outhouses turned into indoor plumbing.

TI-99/4A, the catalyst for my life’s work

As I move through middle age, I am amazed even over my relatively short lifespan so far how things have changed.  I still recall black and white TVs in our and my relatives homes. I recall when I had to watch what was on when it was on on a small set of channels I could count on my hands.  I remember cars that were gigantic and having a difficult time getting information about topics. I remember encyclopedia salesman, and vacuum cleaner salesman and other salesman visiting our house.   I recall being fascinated with typewriters that could “erase” mistakes with a white ribbon and then typewriters with tiny displays, that then led to spell checking before it went to the page and then led to my kids saying “what’s a typewriter?”  The horse and buggy lasted for hundreds, even thousands of years, but we’ve seen entire product life cycles comes and go in a span of a few years or decades, being made obsolete by something else, that was repalced by something else. In the short time I have been on this earth, we went from live TV only, to VCRs, to laserdiscs, to DVDs, to Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, to streaming on demand.  Similar changes have taken place with written formats, where books and newspapers and magazines are not electronic on Kindles and websites. I used to have to go to the library to look something up and now I can see it in seconds. We used to laugh that the processing power in our calculators when I was in high school was more than that in the lunar module that had landed on the moon barely twenty years before that and now we look at those calculators like the more arcane relics ever.  They might as well be abacuses for all the computing power they had compared to the smart phone I have now, which dwarfs my TI-99/4A computer I got for Christmas when I was 12. It came with a speech synthesizer, as TI was a pioneer in that technology, that plugged in on the right side and is larger than that smart speakers you can buy now that connect to the internet and are computers in their own right. Now my smartphone or car will talk to me and I can talk to it. All the speech synthesizer could do was talk to me.  The shame.

The change my parents will see over their lifetime will be dwarfed by the change my wife and I will see and it will likely be dwarfed by the change our kids will see, but I’m at the point now where I wonder if this is a good thing and how to stay grounded in that, how to manage that change so it does not overwhelm us and make us irrelevant, or worse, do us harm.  I recently came across a study that shows that brain scans of kids who engage with screen a lot show an thinning of the outer membrane of the cortex that is used to engage with the physical world. No one knows what that means yet, just that it is there, and it is beginning to be shown to be tied in a causal way to changes in the environment around us that we have embraced.  Could similar things have happened with earlier generations as we moved from walking everywhere to riding in carts to motorized transportation in our musculature and ability to support our own bodies over a lifetime? Highly likely, but these changes did not occur multiple times over one lifetime as they do now. When I got that TI-99/4A I knew that is was the start of something amazing but I in now way predicted anything close to where we are now and I still likely have decades to go before I die so I have no clue what will be the landscape in various areas of life compared to now.  When I watched the Jetsons as a kid, I could not wait for my flying car before I was 30. That did not happen, but I have a phone in my hand that is thousands if not millions of times more capable than that TI computer was in about the same time period. So while I cannot predict what the change will be, I now it will happen, and I have to determine how to handle it.

My concern now returns, as it does often as a parent, to my kids.  I think I am seeing a lack of capability in dealing with change in a healthy way.  I’ve talked about this in other posts about attention spans and inability to focus, have patience or do other things.  My concern is that just like I cannot foresee the change itself I believe our kids are doing things that they have no idea what it will cause them years down the road.  Are their brains developing in ways that will cause problems? I recently heard about the latest popular thing among kids, Mukbang, which is watching videos of people eating.  When I was a kid I has a hard enough time watching the real people around me eating, let alone searching for and then watching other people I do not know eating on a screen. I struggle with simply thinking that this behavior is not an indicator of something else.  But what? Is it good or bad? Does it indicate that we are not going to head to more extreme version of entertainment or is it the opposite, the shutting down of ambition leading to finding that watching someone eat a bowl of noodles is “strangely satisfying” as one kids described why they watch Mukbang videos.  Are we transitioning further into a state, as happened with texting years ago, where people would rather do something virtually than do it in person? What does that mean for our development as a social species? Does this help us drive more division and hatred because we no longer need to be civil to each other, because we can just sit around and watch other people eat and be strangely satisfied?  You can likely continue this butterfly effect for quite a long time, if not forever.

Is that fact that we struggle to find jobs that satisfy us a cause of dissatisfaction with work or is a symptom?  Work used to involve getting together with people and talking and working on things in the physical world together.  Now we e-mail and Skype and play with virtual models. We analyze things and microsegment and divide things into smaller and smaller pools because we can make simple ad clicks on a website turn into thousands of dollars if we just get enough interest in whatever we are saying or doing (some of the top Mukbang producers are making over $10,000 a month, making the “job” of eating and filming yourself doing it far more lucrative than the average income of a US household).  What does that mean? What behavior does it drive?

Overall I see the struggles in anxiety and depression just with our own kids and I begin to wonder if it is not a form of inability to deal with change.  In a world where change is constant and we are supposedly so good at it, are we reaching a point of overload, and are our kids the canary in the coal mine telling us enough is enough through the mental health issues that are becoming more prevalent?  I am concerned that the rate of change makes it impossible to study the impacts of change on us and we move on to the next topic to study because we do not have the time to figure out the impact of one change before we change again. I have memories of living in a time that was very different to fall back on.  I enjoy sitting and reading for hours because I learned I could do that. As I begin to think more and more about what I will do after I stop needing to work, I see a life more and more about basic things like reading, walking, talking with people and sharing time with them. As I watch my kids I see them mainly engaged with screens and I get more and more unsure if they would even be capable of that.   And maybe that’s OK, but maybe it’s not. And what is they determine it’s not but they’ve damaged their neurology enough that there is no going back? Where if they are not plugged into the matrix that they will have a mental breakdown and go into some new form of psychosis? My wife and I increasingly are having discussions about things we are amazed to see our kids are not capable of dealing with as we did at their age, almost as if they lack resiliency, sticktoitiveness and passion.  I see younger employees unable to focus and devote the diligent and sustained work needed to solve big problems. Will that ultimately be what slows down the pace of change? Wouldn’t it be ironic if the rate of change breaks the mechanisms in the human brain that allowed us to impart the effort to get here in the first place and causes us to stagnate as a species?


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