Practical Advice for Women Beginning Their Computer Science Degree

Image from Pixabay

As August winds down, it’s time for those of us embarking upon college to gear up and start classes. As I prepare for my own programming and software project management classes to begin, I can’t help but think back to my first run at college, as a freshman in computer science at Purdue University. It was a while ago, but often it feels just like yesterday. College is a huge transition on so many levels, but it’s also a time of unimaginable learning and development. Who you are now is not who you will be in four years.

I’ve been reading a lot about how the number of women in computer science hasn’t been rising, even though we’ve spent countless hours and dollars on outreach programs for girls. There are many solutions being suggested, from single-sex classrooms and STEM badges for Girl Scouts, to making computer science classes friendlier to women and minorities. While I applaud most attempts at trying to sell this entertaining career to all types of folks, this article is NOT about any of that. Instead, I want to offer my own advice to girls who have decided to take on computer science this fall, right now, as things stand at this moment in time. For I too was in your shoes, the first time was decades ago, but I’m taking a second stab at it now as I retrain to return to tech after a hiatus raising my kids and chasing my dream to become a novelist. And while some things have changed, many things haven’t and what was true for me as an 18-year-old is still true for me now.

So, if you’re a freshman female heading out to college to study comp sci, I want to congratulate you on your fine career choice. Not only is a career in software engineering intellectually stimulating, it’s also quite adventurous. At every stage of development you’ll be working on solving problems and puzzles. Whether you’re defining the requirements, or out in the field diagnosing a bug, this is a career that will continue to inspire you for as long as you love doing it.

As you head to university, I’d like to pass on some advice, woman-to-woman, to help you get off to the best start possible.

If you like to solve problems and puzzles with machines, then you belong

I’ve read more than a few stories on Medium and other news outlets about women who said they left their STEM majors because when they walked into their first class, they noticed that there weren’t any other women in the room. Thus, for some reason, they felt that the major wasn’t for them. To this I say to you, “OH HELL NO!” As a female in computer science, you will be the minority in the room. You might even be a super minority, as I was. At first, I didn't realized there weren’t many other women in my CS classes. In the beginning, there were more of us. But by junior year, there were about five of us. I’m not kidding. Not only that, I was the only white, sorority girl. With my bleach blonde hair tied back in a huge bow (it was the early 90’s) and Greek letters on my chest, I stood out like a sore thumb.

But so what? It never occurred to me that I didn’t belong. Here’s the thing, I like solving problems with machines. So did everyone else who was left by junior year. With time, you will work together more in groups and make friends, even if they’re not the same gender or race as you. My favorite memories are hanging with my all-male crew, talking about our senior project while listening to Bob Dylan and wondering why anyone would use recursion for anything other than fractals. They’re guys, not the devil. They’re not out to get you just because you’re different.

We can’t stop living our desires merely because we might look or act differently than others who share the same passions. Otherwise, there’s no point in life, is there? Last spring, I enrolled in the Intro to Programming class at my local college. The first class was like déjà vu. Not because I was one of the few females, as matter of fact it was an incredibly diverse group with women and men about 50-50 as well as several African Americans and Latinos. This made my heart soar. What made me different this time was my age. I’m 46, and everyone else was no more than 20. They didn’t look like me. Should I have left the classroom, believing that tech is beyond me because I’m not 20? No, that would have been ridiculous.

I like solving problems with machines, so I belonged in that class. If you like solving problems with machines, you belong in Intro to Programming as well.

Coding is a lot of work, so get ready to develop some grit.

This is something I think most first years don’t quite understand. Your assignments will take time, lots of time. Not the initial ones, but by the fourth week expect to spend at least 10 hours a week on your programs. I knew this going into my class last semester, but as I listened to the students complain about the workload, I realized that many had not been prepared for this.

This is just the way things go in computer science. Like writing a novel, writing code is a process. You have to go through the stages, from reading the assignment, to figuring out the best solution, to writing your code, to testing it and turning it in. Yes, the "Rockstar" programmer next to you who’s been coding since he was 10 will be able to code faster than you, at first. But he still has to take the time to understand the requirements and design a solution, and bugs are the bane of every coder’s existence. Very few get it running under all test conditions on the first try. So budget a lot of time for your assignments. That way you won’t be so surprised.

The thing is, you need this experience now to make sure you really love this type of work. In the workplace, sometimes you will be coding for the entire day. Sometimes, when a release is ready, you’ll be coding and testing through the weekend. And if your code breaks in the field, you need to be ready to fix it. It’s not an easy job, and I don’t think sugar coating it to get more people to try it is a good idea.

But then again, if you love solving problems with machines, then the time will pass quickly. You won’t even realize you spent 8 hours coding. I loved those late nights in the Math-Science lab (these were the early days of the internet, and dial-up was an excruciatingly slow experience, so we had to work on Unix servers in the lab, not in the comfort of our own room or a trendy coffee shop). We’d get pizza sent in, even though it was against the rules, and code together until the wee hours of the morning. I still lose track of time, especially when stumped. I’m actually looking forward to my assignments this fall in Advanced Programming. To lose myself in my code is the same as losing myself when writing a novel.

And when your code runs and passes all tests—ah, there’s nothing like it.

The math requirements for this degree can be hard—but don’t give up!

Math was never my strong suit. Particularly math after Calculus II. For some reason, it literally went over my head. There were many times I wondered if I’d make it, and those were some of the lowest grades in my time at Purdue. I even entered behind in math, as I didn’t take calculus in high school and it ended up being a pre-requisite for my first CS class (high school counselors weren’t as on top of it back then). I wrote about the experience, and I’m so glad that I didn’t give up. Math is beautiful, for so many reasons. And while you may wonder if it’s necessary, it’s my belief, and the belief of many of the experienced engineers and engineering managers I’ve talked to, that one of the main values of a computer science degree is the advanced mathematics curriculum that goes with it. To think like a computer, you need to understand algorithms, and the three years of higher math will change you, literally at the neurological level. Even if you barely pass, you will be a better programmer for it. Trust me on this. Don’t let it stop you. Remind yourself that you love solving problems with machines, and that your multivariable calculus class is teaching you how to think like one. I can’t do any of that sort of math now, but I can still think like a machine. I was forever changed by my struggles in math, and it was a change for the better.

Hey hardware girls, you’re amazing!

I’ve been focused on computer science majors, but I want to give a quick shout out to all those girls about to embark on a degree in engineering. No matter what the bros in Silicon Valley think, without hardware engineers, we’re screwed. It’s very exciting that you’ve decided to learn both and while you too will experience many of the same struggles as your comp sci sisters, your degree is like CS+10. There will be challenges you can’t even imagine, but the payoff is high. Many of the most successful women in technology have an engineering degree. The charismatic Ginni Rometty of IBM has both her CS and EE degrees, and longtime Xerox CEO, Ursula Burns, has a degree in mechanical engineering. One of the first women I worked with out of college, Kelly Marquardt, was an electrical engineer and is now VP of R&D Strategic Customer Engagements at Cray. The world might be obsessed with software, but without a machine to run on, all those bits and bytes are just someone’s imagination.

Welcome to computer science…I truly hope you find it to be meaningful work and that you make your mark in the world of technology. From this corner of the blog-o-sphere, I am cheering you on.

Universal Basic Income—The Unfinished Business of the Feminist and Labor Movements

What do a housewife in Chicago and a factory worker in Detroit have in common?

No one wants to pay you for your labor.

You read that correctly—your work has no economic value. Society needs you to work, or civilization will fall, but we're not gonna pay you on our dime. Various politicians might give lip service to the importance of the family or the right for workers to earn a living wage, but in the plain truth is, for most of history, caregivers and laborers have been viewed as nothing but slaves. That we even paid a living wage to our labor class from the early 1940’s till the early 1990’s is a miracle, and a first in modern society.

It might seem harsh to call our caregivers and laborers slaves, especially since the Feminist and Labor Movements of the early 20th century did so much to change that outlook, but the truth still remains. For even though Feminists would like to deny it, raising children takes time and attention which means an employer’s and children’s needs are often at odds. And even though the stock market hates it, the men and women doing the most labor-intensive work in our society actually need to eat and sleep under a roof at night.

While Feminism made strides in opening doors for women to get their slice of the economic pie, they have yet to solve the problem that children need to be raised and that work of caregiving deserves a living wage. And while Unions popped up all over the land fighting for justice for those who work the factory line, build our roads, extract and mine our minerals, put out of fires and protect us from harm, they’ve lost ground in the past twenty years, no longer able to extract living wages, retirement, safe work conditions and other benefits from employers, and instead leaving those who do the most dangerous work in our world behind in poverty.

I think about this a lot and how a Universal Basic Income might finally grant ALL those who work the freedom to choose their masters. I’ve written about UBI from a feminist perspective, a technological perspective, as well as an economic perspective. I’ve even suggested that money isn’t even real, at least not the way you think. My study of wages, money and reward has led me to the unseemly fact that all civilizations, including the one we now find ourselves living in, were founded on unpaid labor both within the home as well as the most labor-intensive part of the economic pipeline—those jobs that need the most physical effort.

Consider this, the first law on the books against slavery was made in 1777 CE, when the state of Vermont outlawed it. The first nation to outlaw slavery was England, in 1807 CE.  Slavery is one of the cornerstones of human society and there’s evidence that it existed long before writing. Most experts agree that the concept of owning another person only became affordable with the advent of towns and cities, where surplus food from the countryside was stored, which may have started as far back as 10,000 B.C.E. Thus for at least 12,000 years, the idea of owning a human was completely acceptable. Slavery is even older than currency, and while we no longer allow slavery in most of the first and second world economies, our monetary systems were based on a significant portion of the work being free. Owned humans provided labor in two key areas: the raising of children and household maintenance (mostly women) and the extraction of raw materials for the creation of goods, and the building of infrastructure (mostly males).

In the female realm, marriage contracts provided this free labor. Women were sold by their fathers to potential husbands (the exchange of a dowry), and then mated to produce and raise children. In addition to birthing and raising children, wives also took care of the home, the elders, prepared food and provided free labor for the social structures needed within the community. In exchange, they were given food and a home.

Of course, there was sometimes romance and love in this situation, but monetary policy cares nothing about love. The economic conditions of the marriage arrangement at its most basic is one in which the husband provided food and shelter for a mate who provided children and the labor of the home. Women in most societies didn’t chose who their husband would be, their family did. And within that economic system the labor of the home was unpaid, and still is to this day. As wealthier classes came into existence, wives of rich merchants or nobles for example, were able to purchase slaves, usually women, to help them run the household. This would free the women of the upper-class to educate themselves and eventually they would be the ones to see the economic inequality within marriage, and begin to fight for the liberation of women, starting with women of privilege.

Yet to this day, women of means need lower-class women to do the work of the home so that they can “lean into” the workplace and make their fortune, and too often, the lower-class women that make it possible for some of our sisters to break the glass ceiling struggle to make ends meet. Since the liberation of women into the workplace, and all of the property, fertility and divorce rights that went with it, the work of the home is at best a minimum wage job with no unemployment, retirement or health benefits, whether providing care for the children, or cleaning the house. And for those women who chose to do this work themselves, the wage is zero.

In the male realm, slaves were used to do the hard work of extraction, whether in the mines or in the fields, or building infrastructure, such as roads, monuments and aqueducts. Men were sometimes born into slavery, but more likely taken by war into slavery. Slaves were the great prize in any battle. Their unpaid labor is what fueled our economies for centuries upon centuries. The Sumerians, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Mongols, Europeans, you name it, all of those empires were founded on the unpaid labor of male slaves. Their back-breaking work was the origin for all goods, and still is. We can’t have computers without the mines, and someone has to extract the minerals. Google Lithium Mine Workers and enjoy the story of the tech industry's slave labor.

We’ve made strides to use technology to advance this aspect of labor, yet until the 1800’s, the business plans for all enterprises had at their foundation slavery—the extraction of everything from bananas to chocolate, to sugar to gold was done by unpaid slaves. Hence, the most grueling aspects of business were done for free. The only obligation the slave owner had was to house and feed their slaves, to the extent that they wanted productivity from their purchase. Hungry men can’t crawl on their bellies all day in the coal mine tunnels. Men without shelter won’t live very long. Thus, the labor wasn’t exactly free, just like the women doing the work of the home, the men doing the work of the fields needed food and shelter, and their owners provided it.

It is within this structure of unpaid labor that currency was born. And in many ways, we’re still operating in the same way, for even though we’ve come to accept, in part, that humans can’t be owned, that we should be compensated for our labor, and have a choice as to where we invest our labor, our monetary system still trends towards free and unpaid labor as the foundation of its success. Wages and benefits are the largest portion of any profit and loss statement. Reducing those costs is the easiest way to raise profits.

We have the understanding that all men and women are equal under God, but have yet to create an economy where all labor is paid. It’s the economic need for slaves that made the early Greek philosophy of the rights of the individual dangerous. This is why they gave Socrates a cup of poison hemlock, at some level they knew where “know thyself” was going. For once the individual human is glorified, then the issue becomes which humans are to be free? Citizens? Slaves? Women? What do you do when the rights of the individual are in direct conflict with the economy in which you live?

When America outlawed slavery, it fell to the employer to make sure the laborer was paid enough to provide his own food and shelter. Emancipated slaves lost the protection of their masters but gained the freedom to choose who they would work for. The transition wasn’t pretty, and many people were taken advantage of in the early Industrial Age. Enter the Labor Movement. And we’ve been struggling to make the balance sheet work ever since. The end of slavery flooded the paid labor market with freed slaves. Later the Feminist movement would add educated women to the labor pool, and now labor is cheap. So cheap it can no longer pay for food and shelter. In the end, supply and demand will always have its way.

This is why the Labor Movement worked so hard to make sure that the profits created by the work of human hands be distributed to the workers themselves. Yet today, many working-class men and women find themselves unemployed, with no one ensuring they have food and shelter. People who broke their backs, some literally, to give us the world we live in, are ignored, unseen. The economic system might have bent for a while to ensure the dignity for those who labor, but as soon as it could ship the jobs overseas where slavery still exists (China, Burma, Taiwan), businesses did just that, and our government looked the other way. It’s only a matter of time before those slaves are replaced by machines. Consider Foxconn, the maker of iPhones. In 2010, their workers began committing suicide. The answer? Better wages, or working conditions? No, the solution was robots to replace at least 60,000 of them in 2016. Even the low-paid Chinese worker with no union rights is too expensive. Better to replace them with machines.

What then to do with our unemployed laborers? What to do for the caregivers that earn less than a living wage? How do we create a world where their work matters? The work of extraction and building must continue, even with machines at our sides. And the work of caring for children and our elders is important work. Often laborers and caregivers are the heart and soul of their communities. Do we let them go hungry, so that the coders and financiers of the world can make millions and break glass ceilings?

I find it strange that we’d rather pay a low-income woman money for sub-par childcare, but not pay her money to raise her children herself. We’d rather subsidize an out of work laborer with food stamps, than pay him a living wage to fix up houses in his neighborhood, clean up rivers and lakes polluted by industry, or use his body to protect his people and then reward him for it (just think of how we treat our veterans). Universal Basic Income, especially when combined with Social Credit projects such as the one Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang  proposes, can take the ideal that all of us are free one step further. This is the unfinished business of the great worker and women’s movements of the 20th century. Universal Basic Income is the completion of the promise to the caregivers and the laborers of our nation. It’s the only way to create an economy that is no longer at odds with human rights, and instead works FOR the people, rather than against it.

Techno-progressives: Your President Has Arrived!

Photo courtesy of the Yang2020 campaign

Believe it or not, 2020 is right around the corner. While Democratic voters are gearing up to fight against Donald Trump, the list of potential candidates to take part in the showdown is currently slim. I’m surprised that none of the big names have come out to express their interest. Normally by this time, high ranking political leaders would be traveling the country and announcing exploratory committees to measure the viability of their candidacies. Summer is the perfect time for such musings. At the moment, some, like Bernie Sanders, have let us know they won’t be running, as he’s declared he’ll run again for the Senate in 2020, and several others are keeping their options open, yet only two have actually declared their candidacy—Representative John Delany, and businessperson Andrew Yang.

Today I want to talk about Andrew Yang.

For me, the primaries are the best part of the political process. Admittedly they're a bit long, but tremendously exciting, because this is the phase where the national dialogue is set. To get yourself, and your ideas, into the Democratic debates allows a candidate to share ideas with the American people in a way that publishing books and giving speeches does not. This is why I’m very excited about Andrew Yang’s bid for the presidency. Not only is he a part of Generation X, whose time has come to lead this nation, but he’s a proponent for Universal Basic Income, something that I, as both a woman and a software engineer, am very interested in. Technological unemployment is a real thing already, and Andrew Yang has taken the time to explain why in his book, The War on Normal People. In preparation for a meeting with him, I read his book and I highly recommend it for every Democrat who is interested in living in a truly progressive society. In addition to sharing the raw data on the unemployment and underemployment situation at the present moment, Andrew describes the path we’re headed down, and how to take advantage of the increase in productivity due to technological advancement and invest it in humanity.

The cornerstones of the future that Mr. Yang envisions are what I would call the Triangle of a Technically Advanced Society. At the heart of his plan is Universal Basic Income, where he proposes an automatic $1000 per month per person over the age of 18. If you’re interested in the details of UBI, you can read Andrew’s book. If you’re just curious and don’t have much time, I’ve written about it here, here and here. Mr. Yang calls this the Freedom Dividend, and he’s not the only futurist who believes that this is absolutely necessary if we wish to avoid a catastrophic mess twenty years from now. In his book he writes, “In a future without jobs, people will need to be able to provide for themselves and their basic needs. Eventually the government will need to intervene in order to prevent widespread squalor, despair and violence. The sooner the government acts, the more high-functioning our society will be.”

Folks who live in the upper-income “bubble,” as Andrew puts it, may not be aware that living conditions are already eroding in many places. We can argue back forth about who is to blame—business or lazy people—but at it’s heart this is a security issue. A nation cannot have too many of it’s men unemployed or underemployed. There must be a balance. Inequality will always exist, but our technology is ready to make sure that we all have food, shelter and healthcare. Stephen Hawking said this in 2015, “Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.

Yet as Andrew points out, this is our decision. We’re the ones allowing our technological advancement to help the few. In an instant we could vote for a different world, one where the machine-wealth is shared. This then is the reason why Mr. Yang’s candidacy is so wonderful—he will be the first candidate to discuss Universal Basic Income on the public stage. To have this come up in the debates is reason enough to get him there, because as Bernie Sanders showed us, once the discussion begins, there’s finally a chance to move forward.

The second pillar of Andrew’s plan is universal health care, for all the reasons any decent progressive has been debating for decades. Health care costs are a huge drain on American families, and second only to housing in out-of-control expenditures. Thus Andrew has this going for him as well.

The last pillar mentioned in The War Against Normal People is the concept of timesharing and Social Credits. To me, this is the glue that has been missing between UBI and single payer health care. In his chapter, “Time As the New Money,” Andrew writes, “Even with the Freedom Dividend attending to people’s ability to feed themselves, the thing that still freaks everyone out about replacing jobs is this: What will people do all day?”

As a householder, I must admit that the idea that paid work is the only work of life is naive at best. If you have a body, you have work to do. If you have shelter, you have work to do. Ask any woman who has chosen to stay home and raise her children—the work of life doesn’t stop when you lose your paid employment. However, it isn’t a bad idea to encourage our citizens to use their time to help others, and to reward them in some way for their actions. Building community is work that is also overlooked in today’s market, yet this is the very labor that forces us to meet our neighbors and care about one another, as well as keeping our communities clean and safe.

Just what is timesharing? Essentially, it’s an easy-to-use application (think Tinder for help wanted) that enables those who have a need, for example the elderly woman who needs her lawn mowed, to connect to those who have time, say a middle-aged truck driver who lost his job to self-driving vehicles. The truck driver sees that his neighbor needs help, accepts the job via the app, and then shows up to mow her lawn. Rather than a monetary exchange between them, the app awards the truck driver a certain number of Social Credits. He can collect these credits and with time use them for various rewards, such as sports tickets, or gift certificate for Cabela’s, or even a family vacation. It’s just like the rewards you get right now for using your credit card, only in this scenario, you’re improving the world directly around you—your own neighborhood.

This might seem too cheesy for you. Or maybe you think humans shouldn’t have to be rewarded for helping others, but by combining social work with the UBI, many unemployed folks, as well as those choosing to stay home to care for children or the elderly, can find both economic stability as well meaning and connection with others in their community. Moreover, helping others out builds a network that just might land you a job. I can’t tell you how many people have come to me with work offers as a result of the network I've built while volunteering in the community.

Many communities in America already practice something like this, called Time Banking. Communities involved in Time Banking have reported many benefits, yet Andrew’s plan takes it one step further. He writes, “Now imagine a supercharged version of time banking backed by the US Government where in addition to providing social value, there’s real monetary value underlying it. This new currency—Digital Social Credits (DSCs)—would reward people for doing things that serve the community. The government would seed each market with an initial investment, but administrators would be local.”

Upon further thought, I can’t help but wonder if there would be a way to tie DSCs to a cryptocurrency model, where the blockchain is the heart of the technical application and the new DSC currency becomes the money of the future. That would take the concepts I proposed in my blog Blockchains Instead of Beggars to a whole new level.

As a techno-progressive, I’m totally in for Andrew Yang and look forward to working with him. I hope to join him in shaping the conversation going forward and encourage anyone who desires to live in a technologically advanced society to help get him to the debates. Inequality stands in the way of the future, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Supporting a candidate like Andrew Yang in the presidential primaries is key to opening up a dialogue about the future with the nation. It’s time for these ideas to become mainstream. If you’re interested in discovering more about Andrew Yang and his mission, visit his website

Share his book with other progressives, donate to his campaign, and attend local events. If we can get him into the debates, we will have done something quite remarkable. I haven’t been this excited about a presidential primary in a long time. May 2020 be the year that America wakes up to the possibilities of Universal Basic Income.

Everyone deserves a Freedom Dividend. What will you do with yours?

Messaging Matters—Our Obsession with Doom is Hurting Our Children

Our kids are hurting. From watching one another self-hurt on Musical.lyto the high rate of male college drop-outs, to the increase in suicide and mass-shootings led by our youngsters, it appears the next generation is crying out in pain, and most of us don’t want to see our role in their angst. We’ve done the best we could. We’re busy. There isn’t enough time or money. It’s the government’s fault. It’s the gun owners’ faults, it’s the media’s fault.

At some level, all of that is true, but we need to step back and admit it’s our fault as well. Each of us who lives in this society takes part in the society, particularly in the messaging that our kids receive. The culture we give them is the culture that they will literally embody, whether we like it or not. So perhaps we need to take a moment to look at the culture, and more specifically the messages we share with one another and our children.

The Buddhists practice the Noble Eightfold Path:

Right understanding (Samma ditthi), Right thought (Samma sankappa), Right speech (Samma vaca), Right action (Samma kammanta), Right livelihood (Samma ajiva), Right effort (Samma vayama), Right mindfulness (Samma sati), Right concentration (Samma samadhi)

The idea here is profound, yet one we often overlook when creating the societies in which we live. Beginning with the right understanding, we are able achieve right concentration and overcome the suffering of our souls. That lonely ache of being human can be transcended, if only we have the right understanding to follow the rest of the Eightfold Path.

We learn this understanding initially from those around us. If the elders practice right thought, based on right understanding, then through their speech, actions, livelihood and efforts they will hand down right understanding to the next generation.

Therefore, what we do reflects what we say which reflects what we think. Taking a sample from my Facebook, Twitter and Medium feeds, it becomes clear that the understanding we are teaching are kids is FAR from right in it’s thinking, speech or action. Rather than follow hope, we follow doom, and we sell it to anyone with eyes to see it and ears to hear it. Unless you live in a cave, you can’t escape the myopic American vision of death, destruction and hopelessness. Given our obsession with doom, is it any wonder that our kids want out? Whether through cutting, killing themselves or others, or escaping into video games, the world we’re telling them, the world we’re showing them, isn’t one of empowerment, it’s one set on pity and helplessness.

What exactly do I mean? The examples are endless, but here are four lies I think we feed each other, and thus our children, that teach them the world isn’t worth their time and that they themselves are irrelevant.

1.       The world is better off without humanity.

Yes, we’ve all heard this one. I hear it several times a day, when I bother to leave my cave and partake in this world I love so much. And every time I hear these words uttered, my heart breaks. Why, dear humans, do you hate yourselves so much that you would think this? Of course, we may have gotten ahead of ourselves when it comes technology combined with our yet-to-be-fully-developed frontal lobes, but we know enough now about biodiversity and the web of life to understand that the eradication of any species brings imbalance and great harm. We try to get rid of mosquitoes so that less humans die, only to create other pests intent on killing us. Hey, the fact that some parts of nature want to kill us isn’t because we’re evil. We really need to get over that concept. Viruses keep our population under control the way mountain lions keep the deer population under control the way birds keep the mosquito population under control. If humanity were to just die off, then who would be the hands of the Earth? Do you really think we’ve nothing to offer? Nothing at all? We have much to learn, that’s true. But the same minds that built oil rigs can figure out how to turn the sun into the next sustainable power-grid. Someone will do it, all we need to do is encourage them. And if that someone(s) happens to be the next generation, do you think teaching them that the world is better off without us is the road to such a monumental discovery? Not sure this message is one of motivation folks.

Rather than focus singularly on how much we suck because we used nuclear energy as a weapon of mass destruction rather than a tool for clean energy, we might want to also use that unfortunate event as a lesson and focus on how clever we are and how we can advance to the next level in our quest for renewable, constructive energies. The same brilliant minds are behind both destruction and redemption, but feed the soul with too much despair, and you’ll get what you fear. We can learn just as much from our successes as our failures, so a little truth, beauty and goodness can go a long way. Humans have made beautiful things as well: vaccines, the Davinci robot, bullet trains, art, physics, stories, comedy, music that will make your heart soar as well as cry, other humans. We can do that you know, create other humans. Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not a miracle.

The message is this: Humans are stupid and evil. The world would be better off with us. Maybe the world is better off without me.

2.       Raising children is beneath us.

Many believe that by increasing their wealth, sending their kids to fancy camps and lessons, hiring the best tutors, being able to afford private school tuition and granting their kids the best in life is showing love. But more than anything, giving them our time and attention is what matters most. Yet in today’s world, wanting to spend time with your children is a big no-no if you want to be a successful, independent adult. Caring for kids makes you weak, puts you at an economic disadvantage and according to feminist theory, the very act of homemaking is misogynistic, patriarchal and designed to keep women down. Sick kid? Unless they're vomiting, have a fever or a rash, stuff some Mucinex down and send them on the way. Can't be late for work, the boss will notice and the promotion depends on pretending no one needs you at home.

Kids can feel this resentment. They know that their mothers feel vulnerable and afraid to leave the office at three to pick them up from school and care for them. They know that society would rather encourage they be sent to daycare, where other women, often the lowest in our caste system, working for $10/hr, raise them, rather than their own mothers or fathers. Here’s the thing though, kids take work. The human mammal needs tons of physical care the first seven years of their lives, and then a lot of emotional care until they’re young adults. But if we do this, if we invest our time in them, then they launch from the home, become adults and take their place beside us in the work of citizenship.

What message do our children hear when they’re told that having kids is the number one way to ruin their careers? We message this mostly to young women, but do you think the males don’t hear as well? Even Betty Friedan was wise enough to suggest that women would never be economically free until men entered into the work of the home. We pitted women’s needs against our children’s needs and now wonder why more men haven’t opted to be the main caregiver? When you spend decades messaging motherhood and caregiving in a negative light, who’s going to want that job?

Moreover, the kids know at some level their needs conflict with the economic and emotional freedoms their mothers deserve. We message that they’re a burden, that they’re the number one reason women are trapped, and are victims in society. Do we think they don’t internalize this? Do we think we haven’t internalized it in some way ourselves?

The message is this: Our mere existence puts our mothers—the first voice, the first heartbeat we hear in this world—between a rock and a hard place. Maybe it would have been better to never have been born.

3.       Everyone is either oppressed, or an oppressor.

Identity politics is king right now, and as a result you are either a victim of your identity or oppressing someone with your identity. There are many examples of this, the one that I’m most familiar with is the idea that the future is female, but only if you’re a badass female. Heaven forbid you might like to have babies and spend their early years with them. That makes you a victim, not a real female. As for men, particularly white men, you’re an oppressor. You can’t be anything else, due to your privilege, and god help you if you want to be an elementary school teacher, because only perverted men want to spend time with other people's children, and if you stay home with your kids you’re just as much a victim as any woman who would do the same, so we really don’t need you at all, unless we want a baby, but then we’d be victims again, wouldn’t we?

That’s an exaggeration of course, but it isn’t easy wearing the face of the oppressor and being told that’s the only role you can hold. Worse is being told you’re a victim due to your gender, color, etc. and that due to the natural imbalances in our society you will never be anything but, even if you do hold the role of CEO or Prime Minister. You’re still a victim because if you’re not a victim, then you’re an oppressor. There are no other options.

What point would there be to overcome your victimhood if the only other role in our Western world is that of oppressor? Yet who would give up being an oppressor if the only other option is to be oppressed?

Real life isn’t like this. The people I meet in my daily life don’t line up into such simple categories. At any moment, with the right understanding, thought, speech and action, we can be neither oppressor nor victim. We can be human together. To think otherwise is lazy thinking. We can’t control what others do, but we can control how we react to them.

To claim that either you’re a victim or an oppressor is to teach one another that there’s no hope, no room for growth and no personal accountability. The victims will never be truly satisfied, and the oppressors can never be truly forgiven.

The message is this: You’re either a victim or an oppressor. You can never break out of your role, for the other option is no better. Maybe I should just stop trying.

4.       Robots are going to replace you.

I’ve mentioned this before in an essay on resiliency, but it’s worth bringing it up once again. It may be that robots may replace many of the jobs that are familiar to us right now, but that doesn’t mean they will replace US. You and me. We’re people, how in the world does that robotic arm in the surgical unit replace US? My surgeon’s role will change, but her role didn’t even exist three centuries ago, not like it does now. Technology has brought surgery to a whole new level and will continue to do so. Would you go to a surgeon who only used ether and a rusty knife? Hell no. We should celebrate the fact that the surgeon today is joined by a robot. This is cool stuff people, and it’s only going to get cooler.

It’s hard to know what the future will bring, but we will need each other. We aren’t defined by the work we do in any given moment, rather our lifetimes tell the story of our efforts. We will do many things, but we will still be here. Star Trek’s Data might just be the ideal companion, completely programmable AND fully functional, but is he really the final solution? Perhaps, given lie number one above, many of you think this is a good thing. You pray that robots replace us in all ways, and rather than evolve ourselves into the new work of the future (whatever that will be), we die off. Or AI kills us.

But I don’t think that will be the case. As I suggested in The Zen ofArtificial Intelligence, AI might just be the Buddha we need, the mentors we will create ourselves in order to teach ourselves that we are worthy, that we are made in the image and likeness of the gods (all the creation myths claim this you know), that the Earth is better off with us, that we are worthy of care and that we can be more than victims or oppressors.

Otherwise the message is this: The robots our parents are creating right now will eventually take our jobs, our wealth, our sex partners and render us useless. Honestly then, what’s the point?

Pass me that bong, I got nothing but hours of Fortnite and several Netflix series to binge on the agenda—today, and every day.

1972—A Great Year to be Born Both Culturally and Technologically

Perhaps everyone thinks the year that they were born was the best. We humans are naturally narcissistic, aren’t we? Yet middle age often forces us to look backwards in order to look forward, and as I review my life and it’s various stages it becomes clear that the timing in which my childhood played out was truly blessed. Particularly as a female. The work had already been done to allow me agency over my body and mind, yet we still had a sense of humor when it came to gender relations. Moreover, both technologically and culturally those of us born in or near 1972 seem to have hit the mark with each monumental shift.

Of course, there were issues—we were latchkey kids, our parents beat us, and the food and air were quite toxic, but when seen from an evolutionary viewpoint, Generation X seems to have grown up with the best of the “good old days” when it comes to culture as well as a front row seat in the digital revolution. And that my friends, makes us unique.

The Seventies
If you were born in 1972, most likely much of this decade is forgotten. I personally can’t remember anything before 1977. However, those last three years of the decade that I do remember are remarkable. First, there was Soul Train. I can’t even tell you how much I loved turning on the TV and dancing every week. This was by far the funkiest thing to ever hit the tele, and it would shape the way I dance and dress for the rest of my life. I still prefer a good disco/funk song and platform shoes make my heart sing. The show began in 1971 and was the first must-see-tv for me.

When I wasn’t dancing inside, I was outside. We were ALL outside. Let’s put it this way, we woke up and ate crappy cereal with cold milk (my favorite was Honey Comb) then our mothers pushed outside and basically said, “Don’t come home till I call you for dinner.” Such was the day for the child of 1972.

What in the world did we do all day? I made mud pies in the lake, played kick the can at dusk, rode my bike all the places my mother said I couldn’t (sans helmets) and hung out at the parks, which were places of injury, screaming and challenge. Our slides were so tall, you’d get vertigo standing on the stairs, which was were the line would form. Yes, kids pushed each other down. It was everyone for themselves. The teeter totter was where you discovered your friends and your enemies. The merry-go-round made you sick.

Lunch would be at whatever home you happened to be at when you were hungry—the mom of the house would hand out baloney, mustard and cheese sandwiches on Wonder Bread that we’d eat with dirty hands as we ran on to the next event.

In the evenings, the calls from mothers all around the neighborhood would sound out, “Dinner time!” Games would end, bikes were mounted, and tired, skinned knee children headed home to meals of Shake ‘n Bake chicken and fries cooked with Crisco in the FryDaddy.

While I wasn’t in charge of the music in my house at this age, some of the greatest rock and roll ever made was recorded and performed during this decade, and I grew up to the sounds of The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder and Blondie, the list just goes on and on.

And my first movie…Star Wars: A New Hope, at an drive-in movie theater.

The Eighties

Oh, where to begin? While I admit there are some questionable fashion trends from this era that should forever be forgotten (like leg warmers, big hair, neon, the mullet and overuse of the word like), this truly was a great decade to be a kid. I was eight when the eighties arrived and would spend the decade in wonder as so many firsts began to come our way. Before this decade, I listened to 45-inch records on my little blue record player (I still have it, just in case the Smithsonian calls). By the end of this decade, I had a CD collection that would take up half of my dorm room, and a CD player that I could hold in my hands. I still remember my first Walkman, as well as listening to the radio all day to hear that one song I wanted to record for my mix tape. I experienced the technology as it arrived, from the record to Spotify, and that alone makes this life of mine special. But the digital revolution would cross all areas of life, not just music.

Trips to the local, single screen movie theater to watch E.T. or Ghostbusters were a treat, often topped off with Dairy Queen after the show. But then came the VCR, and with it, video rental stores, movie marathons and terrible, cheesy horror movies like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween at every sleep over.

Speaking of sleepovers, spin the bottle anyone? Five minutes in the closet, or in the confessional during recess (I went to a Catholic School) were a favorite middle-school game that often never went further than kissy-face, as my husband likes to call it. Oh, the scandal of it all.

The fastest way to find a girl during the 80’s was to follow the spiral telephone cord as it wound its way from the kitchen into the nearest closet, hallway or bathroom, where she’d huddle away for hours, gossiping about absolutely nothing. But by the end of the 80’s, I had one of these in my car. It was for emergencies only, but boy it was cool.

Say what you will about some of the pop culture of this time, I admit Paula Abdul and Wham! weren’t always easy on the ears, but Michael Jackson and Madonna ruled the radio waves while bands like REM and Guns N’ Roses launched their careers. And U2’s Joshua Tree…wow. Just wow.

One of the most amazing things about being a child in the 80’s was the introduction of the personal computer as well as video games. While we still played kick the can till dusk, we also had Mario, and my personal favorite, Pitfall. We are the first generation to have both worlds to play in—real and virtual. I learned to program in 1985 on a TI. We learned to play Pac-Man in the arcade and then some of us went on to work in technology and found PayPal, Twitter and Tesla (yes, Elon was born in 1971).

And speaking of careers, while college was something many people did, it wasn’t so competitive. I never took an AP class or test, didn’t even take math my senior year, took the ACT twice, applied to three Big Ten schools total, accepted the one who accepted me first, and headed to Purdue University in the fall of 1990 to study computer science. Fast forward to today and my own sons, with their eight AP classes and ten standardized test scores, can’t get into a CS program, because they got B’s in their foreign language classes. My how times change.

The Nineties

Oh, the music. Eddie, Kurt, and Courtney. Seattle changed our lives and as the music went from poptart to dark grunge, our bangs fell from the heavens (thank GOD!!!!) and we traded in our neon jelly shoes for soft flannel shirts and torn jeans. Star Trek: The Next Generation (oh Data you sexy thing), Twin Peaks (the first time around) and X-Files (I want to believe, I really do) were now my must-see-TV.

As I mentioned earlier, 1972 was an ideal year to be born as a girl in America. I bring up my gender because all the hard work had been done already for me when I came of age sexually. In 1990, a young woman could go to her college Planned Parenthood and get affordable birth control. We never had to worry if the clinic would close down. It was the same with abortions—yes, both conservative and liberal girls got them—and we’d stand by our sisters, knowing it was never an easy choice and helping them cope with the decision both before and after. Yet never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that our rights to family planning could be taken from us. Our mothers fought for it, and we demanded it.

Coming of age sexually in the 90’s was almost a dream compared to times before and times after. Given the AIDs scare of the 80’s, we were sexually more conservative, sometimes choosing to have a one-night stand, but mostly making out with strangers in bars, leaving them with our phone numbers written on a cocktail napkin, wondering if they’d call. Sometimes they did, often they didn’t, but while a kiss is a sweet, intimate thing, it isn’t sex, and it’s no big deal if he doesn’t call. The next night we were most likely kissing someone else. Once I was at the local bar in my college town and a friend of mine, someone I’d had a crush on for a long time but never did anything about, came in, grabbed me and kissed me, quite passionately I might add, in front of everyone! When he pulled away he said, “I’ve always wanted to do that,” and then he left. It was exhilarating, fun and all part of the dance of flirting.

Yes, there were consent issues, it’s not like Millennials invented date rape. But we weren’t so scared of one another as a group. You knew who the players were (I think you call them douche bags now) and you stayed away. We didn’t demand they changed, all the women on campus knew that the Beta House wasn’t safe. We went to parties in groups and left in groups. No sister left behind. We also said no, a lot. But we also said yes. We flirted with one another. We pinched each other’s asses and bought each other drinks and danced closely, face to face. We dated, and actually went out to dinner and a movie without the expectation of getting laid.

The men I came of age with sexually had not been fed a steady diet of internet porn since the age of twelve, and I think that makes a big difference. The college boys of the 90’s grew up stealing their Dad’s Penthouse or watching the same rare porn video from the “bad” father’s collection over and over before Mom came home from work afterschool. I could trust them, because while their behavior wasn’t perfect, their expectations matched mine. Yes, they wanted sex more often than I did, but saying no wasn’t a big deal. They continued to date me. They weren’t expecting a porn star.

People my age know what we’re losing when it comes to gender relations, and it makes us sad. We want to have fun again. To flirt again. To not have to take every damn thing a man does so seriously. Sure, it got a bit annoying when every guy I met would ask me my major and then say, “No really, what is your major?” when I answered I was in computer science. But I didn’t take it personally, I’d still be single if I let everything a man did offend me.

But I have that luxury, because in the 90’s, sex was natural, sex was good, not everybody did it, but everybody could.

And as I graduated in 1994, I entered a fairly good job market. In technology, things were booming, and would continue to boom, until the year 2000, when the whole bubble burst the first time.

The 21st Century

What have the babies of 1972 been up to? We seem stuck in the middle between aging Boomers who won’t let go of power and angry Millennials who feel the world has screwed them. We’re also taking care of both of those generations. Many people just a bit older than myself have an aging parent they’re caring for as well as young adults still living in the house. I’ve been busy since 1999 raising my own children (let’s hear it for Gen Z) and trying to figure out how to give them the same world I had, or at least the best parts. By the time I had kids, the playgrounds were coated in rubber mats and there wasn’t a dangerous activity within miles. I was a young mother for working women in my generation, married with two small boys by age 29, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t my generation who took away the scary slides. We’re the ones trying to get them re-installed. Worse, those playgrounds were empty. As I’ve written before, the SAHM experience was lonely and isolating for me. The neighborhoods were desolate, no kids in sight for my own to play with. Such a difference from my childhood where we spent hours with other kids, not a parent in sight, unless we wanted a baloney sandwich.

Makes it pretty tempting to just put my kid in front of the Wii for entertainment.

I can’t give them the experience of all the firsts I went through. I do let them play with my record player though. I can’t change their pornafide dating culture either, but I flirt with their father and encourage them to be clear about their expectations with their lovers. Nor can I ease the college application process, reduce the student debt they now all face, or improve the job market. Things seem to have moved to a painful place and turning around appears impossible. The only way is to go forward and create a new story.

We have something to share, those of us born around 1972, the dead center year of Generation X, technically defined as those born between 1965 and 1981. As a larger group, we’re a bridge generation, the last to know what life was like before the information age, yet the first to adopt the digital world and shape it. While we’ve been busy raising kids and figuring out the work/family balance, we have been in the shadows between the massive Boomer and Millennial populations. We’ve been a neglected and overlooked generation in many ways, but perhaps that’s because we’ve never had to really fight for anything. The Women’s and Civil Rights movements were fought by our parents. The identity politics wars of the now are being fought by those younger than us. We’ve been able to reap the best of the modern age, hitting the mark every time. But our culture needs us to lean in and make our mark. What we choose to do with our time now that the reigns are being handed to us will determine the course society takes. We were a generation of latch-key kids and allowed to manage our time on our own without the distractions of today’s world and no one checking in on us. This makes us quite independent and resourceful. If anyone can help create a new story and usher in a better world, it’s those of us who have reaped the benefits of being born at just the right time, don’t you think?

Do We Really Want EVERYONE to Live Forever?

“To those who can hear me, I say, do not despair
The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed
The bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress
The hate of men will pass, and dictators die
And the power they took from the people will return to the people
And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.”
~Lyrics from ‘Iron Sky’ by Paolo Nutini

Immortality. The end of death. Calico. Radical life extension. These are the topics near and dear to many of our greatest minds. At its heart, this is the dream of a future time where man no longer succumbs to biological death.

Our desire to beat death is not new. Long have we tried to avoid it, even though death is the only guarantee in life. Not all will drive a Tesla, study at university or even get to eat today, but everyone will die. It is our constant companion. Some learn to live with this inevitability, focusing on the now. Others make all sorts of deals with various spiritual practices in order to ensure the after-life is pleasant. Still others wake each morning in fear of their deaths, unable to live fully because they’re analyzing every activity from the stand point of whether or not it will keep the Grim Reaper at bay.

In the end though, we all die. Yet our efforts to avoid life’s final moments have not been in vain. Through science we have changed the game of life significantly. Thanks to vaccines and antibiotics, we’ve added decades to human living. While this has consequences on human evolution and biological reproduction, one thing is clear—we are already living longer. While death still comes for all, we’ve radically extended human life by conquering the virus and bacterial worlds on a fairly significant level. Have we eradicated disease? No. But we have made progress. The average life expectancy in 2018 is 79 years. In 1920 it was 54.

Yet as long as death still makes her final call, many see time as against us. There are radical life extension programs popping up everywhere. Some focus on genetic cures, others on eradicating disease, others on hormones or organ replacement therapies. Many look to the Singularity, or a merging of our consciousness with machines, to bring the solution. Whatever it is, humanity has long chased this dream and there aren’t any signs of it stopping.

Yet as we march towards an immortal utopia, I can’t help wondering if it’s a good idea. Individually, I’m not sure I’d want to live forever, so as long as there were laws that ensured I could opt out of immortality, I’m fine with progress continuing down this path. But before we get too far, I think we need to ask ourselves, “Do we really want EVERYONE to live forever?”

Now before ya’ll start screaming eugenics, I’m not talking about whether or not some group or race is worthy of immortality. Technology is to be shared, and anytime a single group hoards it, we all suffer. What I’ve been thinking about is the effects of immortality on governance. Because if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that those in power like to stay in power. Death is one of the only ways we can get rid of them. And if a bad leader can’t die, because we’re no longer capable of dying, then how in the world do we recover from devastating leadership?

We don’t have to think like a sci-fi writer to work this out. Right now we can see the effects of improved longevity and poor leadership within the American political and business sectors. Men, and a few women, who refuse to leave their posts as they grow older. Who remain in power, even though there are able bodied folks much younger than them ready to lead. Who refuse to even groom the next generation because they have no intention of stepping down until—you guessed it—death herself forces their hands.

Take the US Congress. A recent study done by Quorum, a public affairs platform, states the following:

“Today the average American is 20 years younger than their representative in Congress. This should come as no surprise, considering that over the past 30 years the average age of a Member of Congress has increased with almost every new Congress. In 1981, the average age of a Representative was 49 and the average of a Senator was 53. Today, the average age of a Representative is 57 and the average of a Senator is 61.”

Further breakdown shows that within the Democratic Party, the average age is actually 72 years, whereas the Republicans hold an average age of 48. Why is that? I think the emergence of the Tea Party within the Republican Party, which can be seen as a reformation on that party’s politics, did a fairly good job of sweeping out the old, for better or worse. The Democrats haven’t had that type of insurgence take over—yet.

It appears that by and large, congressional Baby Boomers aren’t letting go, unless forced to do so as the Tea Party candidates can attest. Unless someone kills them, or their careers, they’re not going anywhere. Only cancer, party rebellion, or a homosexual affair, will get them to leave.

Not only does this create a power vacuum where no new ideas can come to life, it also prevents the younger generations from taking their rightful place at the table. We’ve had one Gen X president, Barack Obama, who is now 56 years old, yet the election of 2016 gave us Trump (69 at that time), Hillary (68) and Bernie, who was a whopping 74 years old.

Where are the younger Democrats? Are they not involved, or is all the gold going to the elders? Is anyone mentoring them and preparing them to take the reins, or will Generation X be skipped completely, with Millennials taking office at age 60 when the Baby Boomers finally die?

This is an issue, especially in a world where the most powerful have access to the latest life extension technologies. A dictator used to need sons to continue his tyranny, and even then a son could end up being too weak to continue the path. The same thing went with our kings. Good ideas die with people, tis true, but bad ideas need death as a reset, do they not?

I’m not saying we should stop seeking the philosopher’s stone. By all means, keep at it you alchemists of medicine, physics and engineering. But as a society, we need to prepare ourselves for the eventuality that those in power will stay in power, forever, unless we set up restrictions now.

In a society where the life expectancy is already 79, term limits are needed more than ever. Not forced retirement, but forced rotation of work. People will need to keep themselves busy during their golden years (which are now at least 40 years long) and there’s only so much golf that can be played, unless you’re the President of the United States, of course. But we need to encourage people to step down after a certain amount of time. We limit the presidency, we need to limit congress as well as the judiciary branches. A retirement age based on years of service, not an arbitrary age, seems appropriate.

It’s easy to imagine how horrible it would have been if Hitler, Pol Pot or Stalin had lived forever. How about a world where the same people are elected over and over, never stepping down, allowing in the random whipper snapper when a seat becomes vacant? How can one person understand a lifetime of technological and medical advancements at every turn? How can someone stay up-to-date, in order to serve the people and understand the cultural phenomena as they emerge?

Oh wait, no need to imagine such a dismal state of affairs.

I think the Zuckerberg trials made it abundantly clear that we’re already letting our leaders lead for too long—and it will only get worse when death’s kiss is no longer felt on this earth.

Raise Creators of Technology, Not Just Consumers

The lonely creator. From Moby's recent video criticizing our obsession with Smartphones.

Once upon a time, children played outside, at parks, in the neighborhood and in the schoolyard. I know, seems like a fantasy from some twentieth century dream, but they honestly did play, lots of them, screaming, yelling, falling down, running and laughing. Yes, they got hurt, but they slept well. 

Evidence of 20th Century children playing

There was a time when children slept? I swear to you it's true. They went to bed after a hot bath and a good story and slept till the sun came up. Sometimes nine hours.

This of course, is a legend, almost a myth, from a time before the Smartphone. In 2001, the year my second son was born, the iPod was invented. It was pretty cool, but storing 10,000 songs on one small device wouldn’t be the game changer here. Six years later, the iPod grew into the iPhone, and this invention would disrupt the life of the child more dramatically than anything else since the invention of electricity.

Kids these days?
There are plenty of articles written about the issues that can arise when kids and technology mix. One of the best articles I’ve ever read is a Medium article titled, "Porn is Not the Worst Thing on" by Anastasia Bell. A must read for all people with kids. With over 22K claps, it appears she really hit the nail on the head. The data is still out, but the rise in pre-teen suicide, FOMO anxiety, and self-harm have all been linked to a blend of too much time online and lack of sleep that comes with screen time. Put a kid to bed with his iPad rather than a hot bath and a story, and he’s very likely to Snap or play games till the wee hours, only to be awakened to go to school, whether he likes it or not. Adolescents and children are vulnerable to everything they see, hear, touch, taste and smell. This is because their sensory experience of the world is literally nature's way of programming their brains. The way they think as adults will be determined by their experiences during this critical time of brain development.

However, there’s one aspect about kids and technology that doesn’t quite get as much attention—the consumerist nature of the culture they are literally immersing themselves in. Our world is less safe when too many of our kids are in mental agony, the increase in suicide, self-harm and mass shootings point to this. Yet our world is even more dangerous when too few of them are unplugged for another reason as well—as our minds consume more and more ideas from others, fewer of us are actually creating anything ourselves. 

We may think watching an arts and crafts channel on YouTube is creative, but if you never make the craft and just watch others do it, then nothing has happened at all. If the online community is more about logging in and letting others do the thinking for us than it is about sharing ideas back and forth within creative groups, with time there will be fewer and fewer content creators, and those few will be the ones with the real power.

It’s important that a healthy percentage of the next generation unplugs and creates, otherwise the world will become one big YouTube unboxing episode, and do we really want our creative capacity as a species to devolve in such a way?

The job of parenting is to create a nurturing space for our children to mature so that one day they can join us in the work of the world. To make civilization, we need creators, not just consumers. This used to be a natural part of growing up—the kids played, built things, did their chores and imitated the adults around them. In this technological age, parents now have to be conscious of the online world their children are so drawn to, and step-in, so to speak. Not only to save their childhood, but to also teach them about the real power of technology. For those who know how this network is built and can create new content in the Information Age will shape the future for us all.

So how do we do this? There are plenty of books and TED Talks on this subject, but honestly, the method for raising creators is fairly simple—delay the introduction of personal technological devices until they’re old enough to drive, play with them until then and make learning about technology a family affair.

Let’s break these three things down.

Delay Personal Devices (i.e. gaming systems, computers and Smartphones) Till the Kid Can Drive

I’m sure most people think this is counter-intuitive, this is after all an article on how to raise content creators in the 21st century yet my first suggestion is to become Amish? However the fact is plain and simple, the moment you put your iPhone in your children’s hands, you have lost them to the content already created by someone else online. Some of this content is inspiring, but most of this endless data stream is blather and unworthy for most adult human beings, much less our children. I’m not kidding here. Perhaps if we'd listened to the Buddha and trained our minds in the practice of right thought, things would be different. Even if you set your children’s accounts to private, they’re still online, CONSUMING EVERY BYTE of information that any old person throws out there. Ms. Basil says this best:

"Pretend you can turn your kid invisible. Pretend you drop your invisible kid off at a warehouse in downtown LA. You have no idea who’s inside — fingers crossed it’s packed with Nobel Peace Prize winners, board certified pediatricians, and J.K. Rowling. Pray it is not packed with the worst of humanity. No one can see your kid, but your kid can see everyone and hear everything.
Would you do it?

Of course you wouldn’t. Most parents are careful about who and what their child is exposed to. Setting your child’s account to private may make him invisible, but he’s still there, fully present, taking it all in."

She goes on to suggest the #16by16 plan, where you tell your kid that if they can make it without a smartphone and computer in their room till their 16, you’ll pay them $1600. It’s not a crazy idea. My own sons were 15 when they got computers, 16 and 18 respectively when they got their first Smartphones. They survived without and I didn't even have to pay them. 

Delaying the technology forced them to wire-up their minds to the world around them BEFORE they linked up to the hive-mind of the internet. During this time, they learned to play with others, manage their time and institute good study habits. How in the world did I keep them entertained? It’s not really my job to entertain them, it’s my job to love them, feed them and drive them to school. Just as they’re not responsible for my happiness, I’m not responsible for their entertainment. However, there were a few things I did to make their lives enjoyable without electronics…

Play With Your Kids

Ms. Basil suggests that, “Kids should be watching witty cartoons, riding bikes, making slime, doing art, playing Minecraft, learning chess, and boring us with bad magic tricks. They shouldn’t be stopping other kids from killing themselves.”

Childhood is about play!!!! And Ms. Basil’s suggestions are exactly the things we can do with our kids. Make slime and playdough, ride bikes and learn bad magic tricks. Teach them to juggle or ride a unicycle. What are you good at? Can you tumble? Then buy a mat and give them that skill. Can you build structures? Then get them at your side while you build a shed. Can you knit, or write, or put on a good puppet show? Essentially play to your strengths and invite the other adults in your lives to do the same. What our kids learn from their grandparents is precious, and the children will cling to those memories of learning from grandma as the elders pass away.

Kids also need to play with each other, even if it gets rough sometimes. But small kids love nothing more than being with you, so read books together, build blocks and Lego sets together, and play board games. This is fun and all of them build social as well as problem solving skills. Family dinners are also wonderful when no Smartphones are at the table. Want to go out to dinner but you have a two year old? Leave them at home with a sitter. Wait till they're four, then bring them to the nicest restaurants and start teaching them manners. But don't put the phone in their hands so you can have a moment to talk as adults. You have a lifetime to be with adults and you will regret it when they're teens and refuse to talk to you, because that's going to happen no matter what. But when they're small, they're open to learning to communicate and want nothing more than to tell you their latest knock-knock joke at the dinner table. Give them a phone instead of your attention and you miss the best chance you have for building a line of communication between you.

I mentioned that our kids learn by imitating us, so this means that in order to play with them in this way, we too have to be unplugged. I myself didn’t get a Smartphone until the eldest was 16 and they never used it. I did however share my computer with them because while it’s important to build up their minds and bodies spatially and through their experiences in the real world, there does come a time where kids need to learn what exactly makes the Information Age tick…

Make Learning About Technology a Family Affair

My father was a geek who spent a lot of time in his office either on his Ham Radio or building electronic Heathkits. One day when I was about ten, I wandered in from playing with the kids, tired and sweaty and looking for a break from the summer heat. I found him soldering together a bunch of electronic parts. I asked what it was and he told me he was building a binary clock. For work? I asked. No. For fun.


I asked him to show me how and by dinner I had not only built my first computer, I’d also learned to count in 1’s and 0’s. It was thrilling and from that day on, my father did everything he could to share technology with me. No, he didn’t run out and get me an Atari. Instead he gave me a TI-99 and I taught myself to code in Basic and thus began a life-long interest in computers and how they worked.

My totally adorable first computer. I still have it, in case the Smithsonian calls.

And note, this wasn't a computer in my room. I had to hook it up to the family TV in the living room and only got to use it in a public place. This meant I could easily ask for help, because Dad would often walk by and ask me what I was doing.

I think it’s important for everyone to know how information systems work. From coding to network protocols to the hardware behind the gadget in your hands, we all need to ask, How? So don’t be reluctant to teach your kids how to program if you don’t know how. It’s never too late, so start yourself!

Play Minecraft with them. Don’t plug them in without you, sit with them, build worlds with them, maybe even build modpacks with them. There are a few cute visual programming languages like Scratch. Instead of giving them an iPad, get an Arduino Lego project going. Take them to a Maker Faire. Build their first computer with them. Please don’t think of these activities as only for those who are “smart” or “geeks.” In this century, we’ve got to know how to make our kids tech savvy, so that means we should learn it as well. The more informed our citizenry is about the network that now governs the very political discourse of our democracy and controls the Electoral College, the better.

Most of All, Be Worthy of Imitation

Is this what we want to share with our children?

The most powerful thing you can do as a parent when it comes to raising a creator is to become a creator yourself. So close the Facebook app and make your own chatbot. Look up from your phone and instead look at what’s under the hood. It’s a powerful world inside of there, trust me.

Go on, take a peek. Then share what you've discovered with your kids.