Seth Godin on How to Raise Our Children in the Internet World

 

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At the annual gathering of my family, one of my relatives asked me a simple yet profound question after having seen a chubby toddler playing games on his iPhone (Or maybe his father’s iPhone?). His question was: How soon can we introduce children to technology?

That’s an excellent question, and a question that we should all be collectively pondering as a community and a family. With the rise of the internet and our technological devices, children, sooner or later, with or without their parent’s permission, will discover technology and quickly engage to it.

Though this question “How soon can we introduce children to technology?” serves as a starting question that can get us into the conversation about this topic, the next question that we must ask is: Given that those children are in the world of technology and internet, how do we help them to understand its beauty and its power to create something meaningful? 

Seth Godin, one of the most original and helpful voices on the landscape of technology and parenting, has the answer to the questions I presented above. On the podcast On Being, Godin, and the host, Krista Tippett, contemplated ways we can help our children to be more inquisitive and creative in this “interconnected world.”

Here is the transcript:

Tippett: You know, you’re also raising children in this time. So how does that–how does parenting–how do your kids who are growing up in this post-industrial, post-geography world–you know, how do they continue to feed and inform your sense of what this means and what’s at stake and what’s possible?

Godin: You know, if you spend time with technically connected 15-year-old, you’re going to discover a bunch of things. First of all, many of them don’t watch any television whatsoever. But they consume more video than ever before.

Tippett: That’s true, yeah.

Godin:  Um, and–and most of them are not concerned whatsoever about Dunbar’s number and this notion that they can only have 150 friends and family, or else their brain melts. They have 1,000 people that they’re connected with or 5,000 people. And they are living a life out loud. And some people are responding to that by saying, I don’t care. I’ll put up pictures of me drinking out of a funnel. And I will, you know, act out, because it’s in the world–I’m just going to do it and that’s fine.

And others–and I’m very lucky to live with two of them–are saying, wow, what a chance for me to contribute to this circle, and to organize to this circle. That here’s a stage and I’m not going to put on a play, but I am going to organize something, whether it’s, you know, helping to build something with Habitat for Humanity or putting a technical innovation into the world. And so as parents, we’re often pushed to make this choice. 

And the choice is–keep your kids out of the connection world and isolate them and make sure they’re “safe.” Or put your kids into the world and, you know, all hell will break lose. Those are the things that they talk about at the PTA meeting. And I don’t think that’s the choice. I think the choice is everyone is in the world now. Everyone is connected. You cannot keep your 12-year-old from hearing profanity.

Tippett: Yeah, right.

Godin: You know, get over it. But given that they’re in the world, what trail are they going to leave? What mark are they leaving? Are they doing it just to get into college? Or are they doing it because they understand that their role as a contributor to society starts now when they’re 10, not when they’re 24. And that the trail they leave behind starts the minute someone snaps their picture.

And if we can teach children that there isn’t this bright line between off duty and on duty, but that the life is life and you ought to live it like people are looking at you, because they are, then we trust them. And we trust them to be bigger than they could be because they choose to be bigger. And it’s that teaching, I think, that is so difficult to do as a parent. Because what you really want to do is protect them and lock ’em up until it’s time. But the bravest thing to do is have these free-range kids who are exploring the edges of their universe, but doing it in a way that they’re proud of, not hiding from.

You can listen to the whole conversation, worth listening to over and over:

The Art of Inwardness: Rilke on The Benefits of Solitude for Creative Work

 

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Rainer Maria Rilke. Via: (FLICKR)

 

Solitude seems central as a prerequisite for creative mastery, especially for some of the greatest minds in the world. When the insanely talented Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky, was asked for a piece of advice for young people, he said that they should  learn to cherish solitude and enjoy their own company. He said, “…people who grow bored in their company seem to me in danger, from a self-esteem point of view.” Besides Tarkovsky, Charles Dickens lived a significant portion of his life in active solitude–a state that enabled him to produce his everlasting books. During ideation, he would take three-hour walks every afternoon alone, and what he observed during those walks would give ideas for his writing.

Another writer who had tasted the sweetness of solitude for his creativity was a poet named Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). In one of his letters that was published in a book called Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke wrote back a letter to an amateur poet and an avid fan of his named Franz Xaver Kappus in response to a request for poetry advice and of course, life advice.

Franz Xaver Kappus, showing through the many descriptions that Rilke drew in this letter, was a restless but a passionate aspiring poet. He had sent his poems to magazines and only to find them terribly rejected. Feeling shattered about his shaky future of becoming a poet, he knew that only his idol, Rilke, was the only person capable of elevating his broken spirit and giving constructive feedback for his poems. Rilke wrote back to Kappus urging him to create “a moment of stillness” to answer some of the most pressing issues in his life, especially whether he should become a poet. This letter was not only a letter of encouragement and kindness, but it’s a work of art filled with strong metaphors and poetic sensibilities.
Rilke writes:

“You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (since you have allowed me to advise you) I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all—ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it. Then draw near to Nature. Then try, like some first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose.”

It’s easy to think of solitude as being alone. However, Rilke doesn’t define solitude as merely just being alone, but solitude to his mind is concentrating to what one feels, in oneself, and in the midst of the crowd. It’s also being unafraid to slow down and ask ourselves what are the things that matter and don’t.

He continues:

“Therefore, my dear sir, I know no advice for you save this: to go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept it, just as it sounds, without inquiring into it. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what recompense might come from outside.”

He re-emphasizes the value of “going into oneself” in the last few paragraphs of the letter:

“After all I do only want to advise you to keep growing quietly and seriously throughout your whole development; you cannot disturb it more rudely than by looking outward and expecting from outside replies to questions that only your inmost feeling in your most hushed hour can perhaps answer.”

There are other more soul-stirring letters in this book. Letter to a Young Poet is truly one of the most spectacular books I have read so far.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Writing as an Act of Self-Interrogation

 

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Ta-Nehisi Coates. Via: (Wikimedia Commons)

 

The motivation of why people write is always appealing to me. Some people write for the pleasure of it. Others write because they need to preserve their experience in a form of structured and understandable sentences. There are also people who write in order to discover their thoughts or one wise man believes that writing everyday has helped him to notice things that people can’t even notice.

For Ta-Nehisi Coates, a prolific essayist and national correspondent for the Atlantic, he credits his grandmother who taught him to write, not as a way to assemble words into clear and comprehensible sentences and paragraphs, but as an act of self-interrogation. He shares what his grandmother taught him about writing in his book of essays titled “Between the World and Me.”

Dedicating the book for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes:

“Your grandmother taught me to read when I was only four. She also taught me to write, by which I mean not simply organizing a set of sentences into a series of paragraphs, but organizing them as a means of investigation. When I was in trouble at school (which was quite often) she would make me write about it. The writing had to answer a series of questions:  Why did I feel the need to talk at the same time as my teachers? Why did I not believe that my teacher was entitled to respect? How would I want someone to behave while I was talking? What would I do the next time I felt the urge to talk to my friends during a lesson? I have given you these same assignments. I gave them to you not because I thought they would curb your behavior–they certainly did not curb mine–but because these were the earliest acts of interrogation, of drawing myself into consciousness. Your grandmother was not teaching me how to behave in class. She was teaching me how to ruthlessly interrogate the subject that elicited the most sympathy and rationalizing–myself.”