On Your Own, With No Direction Home, Like A Rolling Stone

“It’s peculiar and unnerving in a way to see so many young people walking around with cell phones and iPods in their ears and so wrapped up in media and video games. It robs them of their self-identity. It’s a shame to see them so tuned out to real life. Of course, they are free to do that, as if that’s got anything to do with freedom. The cost of liberty is high, and young people should understand that before they start spending their life with all those gadgets.–Bob Dylan, in Rolling Stone. issue 1078, May 14, 2009.

It’s an easy target, right?

The kids at the movies who answer the phone and chat while the film is rolling.
The kids on the bus field trip who are all wearing iPod headphones instead of laughing with friends.
The kids who spend all day inside playing video games instead of out doing something.
The kids texting at dinner tables more interested in who isn’t there instead of who is there.
The kids who demand good grades because they get good grades because they did the work rather than the quality of the work.

I could go on.

The Great Bob Dylan says the gadgets rob them of their self-identity. Says they’re tuned out to real life. Says they spend their life with all those gadgets.

Hard to argue with him at first glance, too. He’s putting the onus on the young people to simply turn off all the gadgets and start living. Yep. They should. They’re old enough to make that choice on their own, too.

And with all due respect to the influential and Great Bob Dylan, allow me to suggest that this generation of young people has been told by the grownups around them that these things ARE their identity. That these gadget ARE real life. That having the latest and greatest gadget ENHANCES life.

See, I think the issue runs deeper than teens being teens but with better technology. I’m sure when kids starting listening to “The Shadow” after dinner, the previous generation lamented the failure to clean the dishes. When teens cruised the strip I’m sure parents talked about demise of the soda shop. When stereo headphones came out parents (while likely relieved they no longer had to yell, “Turn it down!”) probably wondered why the kid spent all their time in their room not interacting with the family. I mean, somebody invented TV trays for a reason.

And, I don’t want to get all syrupy about my childhood. Sure, we had BB gun wars and rode bikes and played street hockey and Kill the Man and there were dinners around the table and played on sports teams and spent summer getting bored. But we also had cable television, car stereo cassette decks, suburban amenities like access to racquetball courts, bowling alleys, movie theaters, vacations at the coast, hanging out in parking lots. There was requisite mischief afoot with all that “freedom” and “liberty.”

I kind of found my identity amidst all that. Lost it. Rediscovered and reinvented it a few times. Still do that, too.

And those moments were my life. I mean, playing Chexx Hockey at Putt-Putt golf and games provided hours of entertainment and trash talk with my friends. Sneaking into R-rated movies. Driving around listening to Molly Hatchett with Baker and Hal (Alabama, early 80’s, don’t judge). Wiffle-Ball as 17-year-olds. And, yes, my life now includes a lot of laughter as my family has to move furniture to play Wii Tennis or trash-talks during Mario Kart Cup races. Sometimes I even get a text that says “I love you, Daddy :)” from a kid 15-feet away (that goes into my “saved” folder).

Yes. I like gadgets. I’ve become addicted to my iPod. I like mobile phones as I have teenage daughters (even if we have war over failure to respond to the texts–we’ve learned they’re NEVER answering an actual dialed call). I even want certain amenities–HD television with surround sound comes to mind…but generally I’m pretty laid back with getting gadgets. They aren’t really a priority.

Why did I ramble about all this?

Well, because I’m actually more concerned about other things that might rob a kid of their “self-identity.”

Like parents who live above their means so they can attain “status” with houses, cars, and yes, gadgets.
Like parents who encourage media by using DVD players on neighborhood errands.
Like parents who come home from work and disengage instead of realizing that’s the most important part of the day.
Like parents who really believe their self worth and identity comes from their freaking job.
Like parents who honestly think that manipulating a system to get good grades to get into a good college is more valuable than being a critical thinker.
Like parents who rob the joy of sports by putting 8-year-olds in any sport year-round.
Like parents who text while driving, or even answer unnecessary calls while at lunch with friends (yes, sometimes the kid has to check-in while you’re at dinner, so that’s cool–provided you’ve given the requisite preemptive “My kid’ll need to check in with me in about 15 minutes and I’ll have to take that call” warning).
Like parents who can’t laugh at themselves and with each other, or let their teenagers laugh at them when warranted.
Like parents who don’t have any interests or hobbies outside of work.
Like parents who don’t value the arts.
Like parents who aren’t students of their children and don’t encourage THEIR interests.
Like parents who let their kids bring the iPod Touch or NintendoDS to church and then complain that their child doesn’t have any friends there.
Like the parent who overshedule, overmanage, oversee and overprotect their child to keep them out of trouble, shield them from pain and/or failure so they will achieve and be successful (usually in 3rd grade, too).
Like parents who…

I could go on.

See, I’m not really worried about an iPod earbud robbing my kid’s self-identity.
See, I’m not really worried about gadgets “replacing” real life because, like anything else, they can enhance real life.
See, I’m not really worried about the kids losing their life to gadgetry.

That stuff, in some form or fashion, has always had unintended consequences. It was always thus, and always thus will be.

What concerns me more is that a parent can abdicate their role and allow a child to lose their self-identity by failure to teach their children Truth. And then push their kids into successful mediocrity.

So, point taken, Mr. Dylan. On one hand, you’re on to something.

But, frankly…

I don’t fear an iPod.

There are certainly more dangerous fish in that sea.