maybe kids have it right

But the adult is not the highest stage of development. The end of the cycle is that of the independent, clear-minded, all-seeing Child. … Why do the enlightened seem filled with light and happiness like children? Why do they sometimes even look and talk like children? Because they are. The wise are Children Who Know. Their minds have been emptied of the countless minute somethings of small learning and filled with the great wisdom of the Great Nothing, the Way of the Universe.

Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff

Don’t ask me why, but I don’t often find myself agreeing with Mark Zuckerberg. Call it a gut instinct, I suppose. However, after reading this short story titled, “Say what? Young people are just smarter” by Margaret Kane, I found myself partially agreeing with the guy but not for the same reasons. In the article, Zuckerberg talks about how people under 30 are “just smarter.” And while I’m sure anecdotally this is true in his eyes, overall I think he’s missing the point.

“I don’t know… Young people just have simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have family.”

There it is. Young people tend to have fewer things, fewer responsibilities, fewer elsewheres for their minds to drift to. While I don’t think this is a quality that is restricted by age, I do believe that people tend to collect distractions as they age. Coupled with self-doubt and a nice case of impostor syndrome, these distractions can cause an older person in a technical field to perform badly. The reality is that this type of stress can cause anyone1 to have reduced productivity.

What I believe, however, is that this stems more from our culture than from the magical number of 30. Sure, as the barrier to entry gets lower and lower, more young people have started to dominate the technology sector. I remember being eight or nine and sitting with my Dad while he would program, then later on I started writing my own programs. That felt like being ahead of the curve. And it was. At school, with friends, their families, I was the go-to computer guy. I was employed by my high school as the computer technician while attending! But now, I’m 31, and while I am still the go-to computer guy for some friends and family, there’s no denying that things have changed. There’s been a shift. My kids — six and three — are way ahead of the game. I’m sure by now you’ve witnessed a kid walking up to a TV or computer monitor and, with a look of puzzlement, wondering why there’s no response to their touch. Yet, put them in front of something they can actually use and it’s amazing. My three year old builds entire railroad systems on Minecraft using our iPad. So whether they even know it or not, they are learning the utter fundamentals to the way interfaces should work and programming logic. This isn’t to say that we old fogeys can’t do this very same thing. In fact, knowing this, I make it a point to sit with my kids and work in Minecraft, or their puzzle games, or any other app of the week, because it helps me while it spurs them on. But not everyone has the time or patience to even make an attempt to keep their finger on the pulse of the technological world.

Again, I believe the culture we live in is the cause.

Society is more than willing to give us a predefined bucket list. In fact, we are pressured to check as many things as possible off of that bucket list before we kick it. Especially in America, we live with a strong cognitive dissonance between “enjoy life to the fullest” and “work your fingers to the bone.” Part of the former is one of the many design patterns on society: Graduate High School > Graduate College > Get a Career > Get Married > Raise Kids > etc. I don’t know what you’d name this design pattern, but it might be something like the Standard Pattern, or the Default Pattern. While many choose other patterns, I am guilty of following the Standard Pattern, more or less2. However, I try not to let that hold me back but it’s almost impossible to compete with a younger person who hasn’t followed the same pattern. My ability and schedule to focus is set between my early morning runs and the hours my kids are in school or asleep. While I try not to let that impact my mental agility and focus, it obviously takes a toll. But that’s me. There are plenty of people who either know innately or who have discovered early on that children have it right. Children don’t want to be weighed down responsibilities or obligations; they want to be free to explore and build things. To give the dead horse a couple more kicks to the rib, children want to take the road less traveled because it’s amazing and potentially filled with treasure.

Taking the road less traveled3 isn’t just about thinking outside the box. It’s also about a road filled with fewer distractions. Obviously I have no real problem with the Standard Pattern as it is the path I chose, but I think it’s unnecessary and a bit forced. Perhaps the next generation realizes this. Life doesn’t have to be lived on the rails. We do need education and companionship, but it doesn’t have to fit into the same box society has created for us. Not everyone needs to get married, have kids, buy a fancy car and retire at age 65, with some variation along the way to make us unique. The value in being young is that you can choose early on to ignore societal pressure and just live simply, but that doesn’t mean the possibility is open only to young people. With enough dedication, anyone can do it.

 


 

Footnotes

  1. Of course, by “anyone,” I am referring to anyone qualified to work in the field. Don’t get technical on me.
  2. I didn’t fully graduate college, but I’m doing everything else. I’m not even mad.
  3. I realize Frost wasn’t actually talking about taking a road less traveled, but the arbitrary choice between two identical paths, but I went with the popular misconception. So sue me.