The Convivial Society: Vol. 4, No. 11
I really, really needed this reminder today, when my almost 20-yo child is traveling to a foreign country (your country, haha) completely on his own for the first time, and we haven't heard from him in three days. He's always been very independent, and I trust that if something genuinely bad happened, he would find a way to contact us. But it is so hard to stop the "What if X? What if Y?" questions from yammering ceaselessly in my mind--as if having more knowledge about what he's up to would help me do what? Swoop in like Superman to save him from having to solve his own problems? I couldn't control things even if I had more knowledge.
But maybe the burden of care is on him, now, and it wouldn't kill him to drop his old mom a reassuring text occasionally, haha.
This is such a lovely meditation. As all true things do, it seems so obvious when stated clearly, and yet I've found myself fretting incessantly about the notion--popularized by Marc Andreeson's recent widely-shared hype piece-- that AI 'tutors' and 'counselors' will replace human figures and improve upon them through 'infinite patience' or 'endless compassion.' As though patience or compassion were optimized inputs and outputs of some automated system. And you express so well here that patience, compassion, all the real human virtues, are not inputs or outputs at all, but the very essence of a meaningful human life.
Judi DeVilliers - simple comment about my personal angst when my infant came home with me from the hospital, of how to be a good parent. I had the idea that I had this young life to shape; but found out within only a few days with my newborn, that he already was a person; like a book, and I realized that all I could do was write notes and advice and comments in the margins of the beautiful person he was.
I think this is a fascinating concept and one that applies to young friendships with the integration of "Find my Friends." I often tell friends that I do not want to permanently share my location with them and it leads them to be confused and feel that I am withholding something. But I think that having separated spheres of life and being able to go places without having to be conscious of who may see where you are and have thoughts about it is a necessary relief for the psyche.
At the same time, it is fun to see where friends are and potentially spontaneously meetup if we see that we're close by. As with all things, there are aspects of these technologies which feel desirable, but all that accompanies them, and the ways that they shift our orientation to our relationships or information is difficult to fully anticipate, particularly in light of the immediate gratification of knowing where your friends are.
I concur, as usual. It's an odd time to be a parent. My children were in elementary school in the early 2000s. I would send them on their way in the morning, pushing them out the door on their scooters or bicycles, with their lunches and backpacks. They had less distance to travel to our local elementary school than I did when I was that age, but it's still quite a way for small children to travel in the eyes of a parent, but I remember that simple responsibility - to get myself to school and back - as being an important aspect of my own development and learning how to relate to the world and its myriad obstacles and dangers. That was about the same time news articles started appearing about parents getting in trouble, and I spent a lot of time fretting. What? I can't tell my kids to go play at the park for a while? What has childhood become?
There is another important lesson about technology in this discussion of surveillance. It is assumed that if we surveil our children, students, or who/whatever, that we will see things that give us previously unseen options in deciding what we do. The fallacy here is that more options always yields more agency.
The relationship between options and agency has an understandable history. In pre-industrial eras situations where options were quite limited were common. Whether in household care, commerce, healthcare, or just leisure we could imagine that the sense of limitation was obvious (but also perhaps unquestioned and not a subject of angst). The introduction of choice in any of these cases may have been true strides in quality of life.
In our current era we are frequently presented with vast new options with the tacit (or in the case of advertising, strongly manipulated) understanding that they will improve our personal agency. Just imagine what you could do with the 200 new features on the next operating system! It is almost impossible not to think that we will be able to act on our desires and values with greater expediency once we have these tools in our hands.
The lesson is not limited to devices but also to the products of a technological society. Do choices in food, kitchen implements, or colors of anything really help us achieve what we need to accomplish in our daily lives? At times I'm sure they do, but mostly it just makes for another decision.
This is one of the lessons I hope we someday teach young people about how to understand and best use technology and live in a society of endless choice.
To me, monitoring is a useful form of care, allowing authorities, caretakers, and educators to protect from a distance and also evaluate when stepping into a situation is the better choice. A student's progress, for instance, can be monitored for the very purpose of not interfering with his or her independence and natural development. The main limitation of monitoring, however, is that it is a one-way relation. Perhaps monitoring is for the interim, for the spaces between what indeed is more fundamental, the reciprocal relationship.