TEDx Duke Talk is Posted!

Here is the talk I gave at TEDx Duke ” Preparing Your Children for a World you can Barely Imagine.”

Some of the images are a bit pixelated but you can get a copy of the slides in my previous post.

For those who prefer text….here ’tis:

CHART 1: TITLE
Today I want to share a VISUAL STORY about THAT MOMENT TIME when you FIRST REALIZE what it REALLY MEANS TO BE A PARENT and HOW THAT TINY SLIVER OF AN INSTANT in the RELENTLESS UNFOLDING OF TIME forever CHANGES YOUR OUTLOOK on LIFE!

Now, while I am sharing my PERSONAL FAMILY STORY …. we are all part of a big family called HUMANITY. So … in essence …. this story is really about what ALL OF US CAN DO to PREPARE EVERY CHILD to SUCCEED in a WORLD THAT WE CAN BARELY IMAGINE.

CHART 2: Eureka!
Now, I have been TEACHING for over 15 YEARS. WHY? Because, for me, there is NOTHING MORE FULFILLING than experiencing THAT MAGICAL MOMENT when another HUMAN BEING is VISCERALLY IMPACTED by the POWER OF AN IDEA.

I ADMIT IT, I am ADDICTED to EUREKA MOMENT’s

CHART 3: Grandad

In hindsight, it is NOT REALLY SURPRISING that I became an EDUDATOR. In fact I, I come from a LONG LINE of educators

This is my Grandad, Michael O’Driscoll … He was the HEAD MASTER at the LOCAL TECH-SCHOOL in my home-town of Youghal, Ireland. Everyone knew and loved my Grandad. He was a REAL PILLAR OF THE COMMUNITY.

CHART 4: Pillar
He was always TUNED IN to what was GOING ON AROUND TOWN and many, many people SOUGHT HIS WISE COUNSEL …. over a PINT OR TWO …. long after he had RETIRED FROM THE CLASSROOM

CHART 5: Passing
One GLORIOUS SPRING DAY my grandfather STEPPED ONTO THE TEE one of the LONGEST FAIRWAYS on the GOLF course in YOUGHAL. He DROVE THE BALL FURTHER than he had ever done before … and at that the VERY SAME INSTNT…. HE PASSED AWAY …. One of his close friends later related it to me this way – “Shir, he was DEAD before he hit the ground boy.”

NOW, every CLOUD has a SILVER LINING …. In this case, I TAKE SOLACE in the fact that Grandad PASSED AWAY PAINLESSLY doing something that he LOVED surrounded by his PEOPLE WHO LOVED HIM.

CHART 6: Unyielding Obsession
Grandad has this WONDERFUL WORKSHOP at the back of his house. As a GOSOON, I spent COUNTLESS HOURS with him TINKERING WITH BROKEN RADIOS or REPAIRING GRANDFATHER CLOCKS.

Through those INTERACTIONS, his passion for FIGURING THINGS OUT was passed along to me in the form of my KEEN INTEREST TECHNOLOGY.

To this day, I still remember THE MOMENT when this KEEN INTERST became an UNYIELDING OBSESSION. It was April of 2000 ….. Another BEAUTIFUL SPRING DAY ….. I was on a plane coming in to land at LaGuardia. On the final approach, I looked out the window at ONE OF THE GREATEST MARVELS of HUMAN and TECHNOLOGICAL ACHIEVEMENT EVER: NEW YORK CITY. I DISTINCTLY REMEMBER that the Empire State Building LOOKED ALMOST ALIVE as it SHIMMERED in the EARLY MORNING SUN.

And yet, despite this INCREDIBLE vista, I FOUND MYSELF CRYING UNCONTROLLABLY … I was COMPLETELY DISTRAUGHT. WHY? Because I had READ Bill Joy’s article “”WHY THE FUTURE DOESN’T NEED US” in Wired Magazine and, I IMMEDIATELY realized that I had FALLEN PREY TO THE SIREN SONG of TECHNO-OPTIMISM….. and I’d never PAUSED TO PONDER THE NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES of technology’s RELENTLESS MARCH through the UNFOLDING OF TIME.

And thus began my DEEP DIVE to understand how TECHNOLOGY IMPACTS HUMANITY.

CHART 7: Technology Odyssey
To START WITH, I paused to ponder the TECHNOLOGY ODYSSEY that my Granddad went through DURING THE ARC OF HIS LIFETIME. He witnessed the invention of the Telephone, the Television, the Automobile, Manned Flight, Sputnik, Transatlantic Radio, Highway Systems, A MAN landing on the moon, …. He even saw the advent of the Information Revolution with Computers.

If you stop think about the AMOUNT OF CHANGE MY GRANDFATHER ABSORBED DURING HIS LIFETIME, I am ACTUALLY surprised he did not SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST walking down main-street in Youghal as opposed to passing away ON THE GOLF COURSE.

CHART 8: CHILDREN
Now, these are my kids….Aidan’s 8 and Liam is 5….and BOTH the RESEARHER and the FATHER in me want to know ONE THING…..

CHART 9: Arc of Life
How will the ARC OF MY KID’S LIVES COMPARE to that OF MY GRANDFATHER’S?

  1. What will their TECHNOLOGY ODYSSEY look like?
  2. Will they experience MORE OR LESS CHANGE?
  3. Will they be as FULFILLED IN LIFE as he was?

And perhaps the MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION of all….WHAT CAN I DO AS A FATHER TO ENSURE THAT AIDAN AND LIAM EXPERIENCE THE FULLNESS AND JOY of life THAT MY GRANDFATHER DID?

CHART 10: 3D Rate of Change
As I dug deeper, I QUICKLY became FASCINATED by the role that TIME PLAYS in determining THE RATE OF CHANGE OF SOMETHING. Whenever we say the words … “RATE of CHANGE” … TIME ITSELF is baked into that equation…. It’s right there in the DENOMINATOR

But with each SUCCESSIVE TIME DERIVATIVE, the RATE OF CHANGE ITSELF is also CHANGING. It is easy enough for us to COMPREHEND SPEED AND ACCELERATION ….. we feel it in our CAR. But when we move into a THIRD DERIVATIVE RATE OF CHANGE ……Quite APPROPRIATELY DEFINED as JERK ….. We loose the ABILITY TO COMPREHEND IT VISCERALLY

CHART 10: Time Jerk Wormhole
Here, I’m suggesting that the TIME-SIGNATURE OF LIFE IN THE 21ST CENTURY is NO LONGER SYNCHRONIZED WITH VELOCITY OR ACCELERATION. INSTEAD, it is SYNCOPATED WITH JERK…. And as a result, TECHNOLOGY is LITERALLY jerking HUMANITY AROUND.

CHART 11: Exoskeleton
Now, BECAUSE we HUMANS ARE NOT PROPERLY INSTRUMENTED to process a THIRD-DERIVATIVE rate of change we have NOT noticed that our planet has developed a DIGITAL NERVOUS SYSTEM that CONNECTS PEOPLE AND AMPLIFIES INSIGHTS at a SPEED AND SCALE that we can BARELY IMAGINE.

Basically, the WORLD HAS WEAVED THE WEB into an ELECTRONIC EXOSKELETON that is MOVING THROUGH TIME AT a RATE OF CHANGE we HUMANS are not well equipped to DETECT.

CHART 13: DDDK
AND SO, as TECHNOLOGY STARTS to SERIOUSLY JERK US AROUND, we find ourselves facing a DIGITAL DIVIDE OF A DIFFERENT KIND. This divide is NOT about the HAVES and HAVE NOTs in terms of ACCESS. It is a divide about the KNOW and KNOW NOTs in terms of SURVIVAL.

Given that each individual’s ABILITY TO PROCESS AND STORE INFORMATION has REMAINED RELATIVELY CONSTANT OVER TIME, how do we BEGIN to BRIDGE this EVER-WIDENING DIGITAL DIVIDE?

What can we do to prepare EVERY KID for a world where:

  1. Technology is Proliferating
  2. Information is Exploding
  3. Time is Compressing
  4. Change is Accelerating

WHERE DO WE EVEN BEGIN?

CHART 14: Possible Futures
Drawing on GRANDAD’s PASSION to FIGURE THINGS out, I laid out A SET OF POSSIBLE FUTURES FACING HUMANITY:

ENSLAVED (DYSTOPIC):
In the ENSLAVED scenario TECHNOLOGY LIMITS, BOUNDS AND ATTENUATES THE FULFILLMENT OF HUMAN POTENTIAL. Technology plays a role in how we CONSTRUCT OUR SENSE OF IDENTITY. WE REDUCE OURSELVES, and MAYBE OUR DREAMS, to fit the CURRENT FORM FACTOR OF THE TECHNOLOGY. Here, Aidan and Liam SURF IN THE SHALLOWS OF THE INTERNET ERODING their CONTEMPLATIVE AND INTROSPECTIVE THINKING ABILITIES …. Opting instead to go to the ALWAYS ON ANSWER BOX when faced with a QUESTION. At the highest level, our INTERNET INDWELLING DUMBS US DOWN to a point where we a become IT LABORERS living a life of INDENTURED SERVITUDE to SERVER FARM OWNERS.

EMPOWERED (UTOPIC):
In the EMPOWERED scenario TECHNOLOGY EXPANDS, AUGMENTS, AND AMPLIFIES the HUMAN QUEST FOR FULFILLMENT. The flywheel of TECHNOLOGY PROLIFERATION and JERKINESS SYNCOPATES to open up NEW FRONTIERS OF OPPORTUNITY for Aidan and Liam. The technology serves as a FULFILLMENT SERVICE to help our children realize their BIGGEST AND BOLDEST DREAMS. At the highest level, the 1 TRILLION HOURS OF COGNITIVE SURPLUS that exists in society today is CONNECTED AND AMPLIFIED TO CREATE A BETTER WORLD FOR EVERYONE

ENMESHED (NEWTOPIA):
In the ENMESHED scenario Technology REDEFINES THE NOTION OF THE FULFILLMENT OF POTENTIAL IN A POST-HUMAN SENSE. More and more we are BRINGING INTO OURSELVES TECHNOLOGICAL AFFORDANCES that allow us to do certain things better than we have in the past. Range goes from a COCHLEAR IMPLANT, to HEART VALVES, through a SMART NANO-PILL to get better at CALCULUS, to the potential for ETERNAL POST-HUMAN LIFE by transferring THE NEURAL CORRELATES OF OUR EMOTIONS into an AVATAR in a VIRTUAL WORLD. Here it is not a QUESTION of whether or not our children REMAIN INTACT AS HUMAN BEINGS, but what NEW FORMS THEY WILL ASSSUME and WHAT FULFILLMENT WOULD LOOK LIKE FOR THESE NEW POST-HUMAN FORMS. At the highest level, the MESHING OF MAN AND MACHINE creates a NEW RANGE OF POST-HUMAN FULFILLMENT OPPORTUNITIES, but the PRICE OF ENTRY is giving up OUR UNIQUELY HUMAN IDENTITY

EXTINGUISHED (NOTOPIA):
Now, because minds are NOT OPERATING AT THE SAME CLOCKSPEED AS the ENVIRONMENT within which we OPERATE, we have an ERRANT SET OF ASSUMPTIONS about HOW LONG it takes for THINGS to HAPPEN. In the EXTINGUISHED scenario, the EARTH’s ELECTRONIC EXOSKELETON CONNECTS and AMPLIFIES the UNANTICIPATED CONSEQUENCES OF OUR COLLECTIVE ACTION FAR MORE QUICKLY than we anticipate leading to THE ERADICATION OF LIFE on Earth MUCH SOONER THAN WE ANTICIPATE

In essence HUMANITY becomes an UNFORTUNATE CASUALTY of our COLLECTIVE INABILITY to ANTICIPATE the RATE OF CHANGE of an EMERGENT CATASTROPHIC COLLAPSE

CHART 15: Touchstones
Now, if the EXTINGUISH scenario happens …. ALL BETS ARE OFF! BUT, MY BET is that we will avoid EXTINCTION … And if we do these SEVEN TOUCHSTONES I UNCOVERED may prove USEFUL in preparing EVERY CHILD for an INCREASINGLY UNCERTAIN FUTURE……

FIRST: LOVE THEM UNCONDITIONALLY:
Loving your child without condition is the most LIBERATING AND CONFIDENCE-BUILDING THING you can do. Without SELF-CONFIDENCE our children will NOT have the COURAGE OF THEIR CONVICTIONS to keep them on the RIGHT TRACK and STAY THE COURSE towards PERSONAL FULFILLMENT

SECOND: CULTIVATE THEIR CURIOSITY:
Curiosity is the underlying MOTIVATION for learning. It is the LUBRICANT for the LEARNING PROCESS and the LIFEBLOOD of PERSONAL GROWTH. Without CURIOSITY our children will STOP LEARNING. Without learning they will STOP ADAPTING…WITHOUT ADAPTATION there is little chance for SURVIVAL in a WORLD that’s CHANGING as fast as ours.

THIRD: FOSTER THEIR SENSE OF IDENTITY:
Without knowing WHO YOU ARE OR WHAT YOU STAND FOR, you are far more likely to END UP somewhere OTHER THAN where you WANT TO BE. Without a STRONG SENSE OF IDENTITY it MUCH MORE likely that our children will become ENSLAVED by technology or ENMESHED with it.

FOURTH: RESPECT THEIR SKEPTICISM:
In a world awash with information a HEALTHY SENSE OF SKEPTICISM becomes PARAMOUNT. RESPECT FOR OTHERS, even if they OPPOSE your own POINT OF VIEW, is CORE TO THE FABRIC of a JUST AND FAIR SOCIETY. Without ENSURING that the STRENGTH OF ANY CONCLUSION is equally matched by the STRENGTH OF ITS EVIDENCE, our children could quickly become CAUGHT UP in a world that LACKS VERACITY.

FIFTH: ENCOURAGE THEIR INTROSPECTION:
As the world OUT THERE Jerks us around UNPREDICTBLY, it important that the world IN HERE maintains ITS SANITY. Without ONGOING SELF-REFLECTION the likelihood of our children LOOSING THE BEARINGS OF THEIR INTERNAL COMPASS and getting LOST in a SEA OF DIGITAL DILUSSION increases.

SIXTH: INDULGE THEIR PLAYFULNESS:
Play is not the opposite of work. It is a CRUICBLE FOR CREATIVITY and a PORTAL TO NEW POSSIBILITY. PLAY also allows us to understand how to WORK WITH OTHERS and WORK THE NETWORK to accomplish a DESIRED OUTCOME. Play fuels the QUESTING DISPOSITION that every child should have in their toolbox today.
WITHOUT PLAY the joy and wonder of life are rendered IMPOTENT. Who would want their child to live in such a DULL AND DRAB world anyway?

SEVENTH: NURTURE THEIR SELFLESSNESS:
Developing a SENSE OF CIVIC DUTY and EMPATHY FOR HUMANITY is CORE to ensuring the CONTINUITY OF CIVIL SOCIETY. Without the INTRINSIC WILLINGNESS to HELP ONES NEIGHBOR the potential for our children to EXPERIENCE PERSONAL FULFILLMENT evaporates BACK into the EXOSKELETON

Chart 16: Full Circle
SO THERE YOU HAVE IT … THE SEVEN TOUCHSTONES that SPRANG FORTH from my FATHERLY ODDYSEY. It’s NOT a bad list , even if I DO SAY SO myself! Why? …… Because if I showed it to Grandad, he’d probably say “THAT MAKES SENSE TO ME … IT IS WHAT I’D DO IF I WERE YOU”

And so, AFTER ALL OF THIS, we COME FULL CIRCLE to the UNIVERSALITY OF HUMAN TOUCHSTONES, IRRESPECTIVE of the TIME we LIVE IN

Chart 17: Sorry !
So, please ACCEPT MY APOLOGIES for DRAGGING YOU through the ANGST OF MY PERSONAL ODDYSEY …… In HINDSIGHT, I probably should have just KEPT ALL OF THIS TO MYSELF ; )

HOWEVER, I DO HOPE that my story MOTIVATES you to WORK HARDER at doing WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW you SHOULD BE DOING as a PARENT.

And for ALL OF US here TODAY, lets PROMISE OURSELVES to HIT AT LEAST ONE OF THESE TOUCHSTONES to help a CHILD WE KNOW succeed in a WORLD WE CAN BARELY IMAGINE, LET ALONE PREDICT.

Chart 18: Thank You!

GO RAIBH MILE MATH AGAT!

Nancy Cooper: The Gift of Grief

With each day that unfolds I learn more about myself and others than previously imagined. In the most counterintuitive of ways, I am personally coming to view the grieving around this incredibly tragic and unwanted event as a gift.

Last night after tending to the multiple unanticipated issues and ever mounting to-dos that ship with the freight in these kind of events I finally pulled into the driveway around 9:00. Both my kids were out in the yard chasing fire flys. Theresa could not get them to bed and was also out of energy. Had this terrible event not happened my typical response would have been something like this “Aidan and Liam. You know the rules. We stay in our rooms after 8:30. Now GET UP TO BED.” That did not happen last night.

My 6 year old’s transformer had broken into three parts and my 3 year old wanted me to sing “Don’t Worry” (Bob Marley Song I sing to him every night to keep monsters away). Normally I would have said no because they BROKE THE RULES.

Instead, as if in an out of body experience, I observed myself peacefully walk in to the bathroom where there was good light and work together with the boys to fix the Transformer. We all worked on it together. No fights just fun. Then my 6 year old went to bed happy and I sang don’t worry to the 3 year old and he smiled and said he was going to dream about fire flys tonight.” I kissed him on the forehead…he was already asleep. I then went back into the 6 year old’s room and he too was just dropping off. He told me how much fun it was having me around and asked whether I could take him skating tomorrow. I told him I had to go to work but that we’d go skating together on the weekend. Instead of throwing a fit, he too just smiled and said good night dad. It was as if I had become a child whisperer.

As I was processing this with a person who has become a friend who is also a therapist with a wonderful gift for words, he assured me that this often happens in times of trauma. It is at times when you are most stressed that things like this can happen: Huge reservoirs of patience and self reflection open up just when you least expect them. Then he said something else, “in your case it might be useful for you to think of this as the gift that Nancy gave you.

I did not know Nancy as well as many in our community. But I do know that she was a child whisperer. She radiated love for her kids and for all kids. She had patience beyond belief and kids loved to be around her. Last night I got to experience a little bit how awesome it is to be a child whisperer and I truly hope that it continues.

Thank you Nancy for this gift, even if it was just once last night, I will treasure it always.

Nancy Cooper: Explaining Death to Our 6 Year Old

The one thing that has been made abundantly clear during the past five days is just what a special human being Nancy was. Today’s press conference gave us all a clue as to why. What an incredible family unit the Rentz’s are. Having the fortitude and poise to share openly with the community their memories of Nancy at this time is nothing short of a miracle. I imagine that being raised in the kind of authentic and loving environment that Mr and Mrs Rentz created for their kids contributed in a very large way to Nancy being the wonderful person she was.

As I watched the news conference, I wondered to myself if I am up to the challenge of orchestrating the same kind of environment for our kids. Naturally, this tragedy brings with it a huge amount of parental responsibility. Task one for all of us as parents in this community is doing the right thing vis-a-vis our children. No-one wants to have to deal with the challenge of discussing difficult concepts like death with kids at such an early age, but circumstance has dictated that this must be addressed NOW. Looking on the bright side (humor is important remember) talking to my boys about sex when the time comes will be a walk in the park after this ; )

Back to a very serious topic. We have had a tremendous amount of help from local therapists and social workers who deal specifically with the issue of death and grief with children. Some great high level pointers are posted on the blog created for Nancy here.

Now, this may all seem straightforward and common sense to you as you read this from afar. But it is VERY different as you face the reality of having a discussion with your child about this. Of the ten or so couples that were counseled to do this as soon as possible on Tuesday night, only one couple did. One other friend was forced into addressing it as their children were told about it at school. Based on her experience, believe me, you do NOT want this message to be received by anyone other than you. This is one of the most important discussions you will have with your children EVER. It is not something to be outsourced or wished away. It MUST be addressed and the sooner the better, no matter how difficult or impossible it seems right now.

This morning our little guy (three on Monday) was sleeping in, so Theresa and I reluctantly seized the moment to share the sad news with our 6 year old. We took what worked for another friend of ours in terms of wording and we heeded the key counsel to let the child lead in the questioning. Here is what happened.

We told our son that miss Nancy had been found by the police and that when she was found she was badly hurt. We stopped there to see if our son wanted to go further. He talked about how he got hurt one time when he fell down and that there was lots of blood. We could have stopped there, but we KNOW it is important to get to the discussion on Death before he hears it elsewhere and the likelihood of that increases day by day. So we pressed on. My wonderful wife explained to our son that miss Nancy was hurt so badly that she died. My son’s eyes got very big. He paused a while…and immediately asked “Does that mean that Bella doesn’t have a Mommy anymore…who is going to take care of her?” He also asked if Bella’s daddy was dead too. We said he was not and that there are many people who love Bella and Katie like their Grandparents and Uncles and Aunties who will take care of them. He then went back to playing with his transformer and seemed to be moving on. We told him if there are any questions he wanted to ask we are there for them. He said we had answered his questions, and he then paraphrased them: “I asked you if miss Nancy was dead and I asked you who is going to take care of Bella.” We told him if he had any other questions that he can ask us at any time. We also told him that mommy and daddy are very sad that miss Nancy is dead and sometimes we will be crying or quiet because we are sad. The therapists told us that modeling grief is a very good thing to do…plus it happens whether you want it or not, so it is good to know you don’t have to hide it.

We then went upstairs and the news conference was on. My son sat on my lap and I pointed out Bella’s Grandfather, Grandmother Aunts and Uncles. He made the link that those people were like his grandparents. He listened a bit because he said “she said Bella.” Then he went to eat “Daddy’s cereal” and play with his transformer some more. That was it. Now I know there will be more and that this is just the beginning of the processing and synthesis that must go on. But my point is, that for now at least…THAT WAS IT. As with many things we worry about as parents the actual event itself was almost a non-event. Kids are resilient and as the therapists reminded us we always envision the worst and we are often surprised by our kids non-chalant response.

I am now at Ice Skating practice with our 6 year old. I find blogging while watching him be a normal kid smiling and having fun very theraputic. I am not doing this for anyone other than me, but I do hope that the experiences I share very transparently and authentically will help others deal with similar issues. Right now, he seems to be doing fine. Personally I feel a huge weight off my shoulders. I was dreading having to do this and I was trying to rationalize why to not do it. But the fact is that all kids in this community will come to know about Nancy, the only question then is do you want to control and deliver the message in a way that minimizes fallout or do you leave this up to chance. Next on the agenda will be the concept of murder….hopefully we have a few days to get our heads around that one…but we move on. As Mr. Rentz described today, you are in this bubble and you just take on tasks as they pop up. The trick here though is being prepared for when it does. My only advice is to get help. There are many experts out there who know the best way to convey these difficult concepts to children in a way that is developmentally appropriate. Please do all you can to seek out their help.

It is not easy to do, but having swallowed hard and taken the plunge, I can tell you from experience that I feel a whole lot better right now. One key indicator is that I am now very, very tired. I guess my corticosterone levels got flushed in some way shape or form as a result completing this first step on a long journey of more acute and purposeful parenting.

For those of you who have not done this yet. I wish you all the courage and strength in the world and I urge you to follow the tips on the blog.

The most important thing is to follow your child’s lead. Therapists and Social Workers know what works in general and they can provide great guidelines, but only YOU know your child and what they can and can’t take at any point in time. That puts YOU in the middle, managing the balance in a way that minimizes trauma for your little ones while having to share terrible concepts. And, at the end of the day, isn’t what parenting is writ large? Only issue her is that is concentrated to a point of singularity that few people ever have to deal with.

Be strong be you and work from the heart.