Recently I was talking with a co-worker who had a couple of children and seemed very distraught about the situation she and her husband were experiencing with their youngest. The girl had finished her freshman year of college and returned home for the summer. Within the first week back the woman had noticed something “off” about her daughter. Normally one to engage with her family she’d withdrawn into a new digital world she created for herself. It appeared as her body had become little more than a surrogate to her iPhone. It was like something out of an episode of ‘Black Mirror’.
To my surprise she asked my advice on the topic. She was somehow aware of a book I had written a few years back, which in it had a short section about navigating through the family dynamic. As a social leper I had made what I thought was serious headway managing my relationship with my family and simply documented what worked. The problem though was that it was written from a slightly different generational perspective. I told her I’m not a millennial and I don’t have a strong understanding of their drives. My guess, I told her, was that they weren’t too entirely different from any other group of young adults; the chief aim to define themselves through social groups/orders that would supposedly recognize and celebrate individuality but really were a subconscious call to a singular identity.
She seemed confused by both the verbiage I used as well as the paradoxical nature of the phenomenon. I told her to not worry about the contradiction, that it was very common in most group dynamics. What I said to be concerned about, though not necessarily worried of, was to where the destination of escape from life was. In the past we sought retreat from our daily life in another world, one in which the real, physical presence of other people was still the central component of this new land. Separate from the other ‘planet’ we were temporarily leaving we found refuge in a slightly different group of inhabitants. But the frontier of these recently rendered digital landscapes was worth drawing attention to.
She seemed a spiritual woman so I made an appeal to that nature. Putting it in terms she could understand I said to think of it like this; if wherever we travel to we in fact leave a piece of ourselves, being drawn into a place that only exists as an electronic construct, a binary composition of 0’s and 1’s, is like a one-way street…we can travel into it but there was a danger in trying to escape back out. The deeper she traveled down the rabbit hole the less likely it was that she would come out and if she did she wouldn’t be the same girl she had raised. The only hope I told my colleague she had was to create a new type of reality to embrace and reel in her daughter. Having her undivided attention in this other-worldly dimension she could better dictate the rules of their interaction together.
Suffice to say I worked with her again recently and am glad to report it seems to have worked to some degree. They still aren’t operating as a whole family unit per se but the individual time the two have spent together appears to have brought joy to both parties. This to a greater degree is where I see the majority of the Americans heading. While I can’t understand it (or like it) in the end my opinion counts for little. The influence of a variety of other forces has been pushing apart the nucleus of humankind for decades and as we transcend into the 21st century this gap will only continue to widen. In the end despite how close we seem to become in reality, technology will ensure we are only further apart…who knows, perhaps nature sees that in their best interest?