The Gen-Z Generation and Confronting the Future

 The transformations the Gen-Z cohort will have to confront encapsulate climate change, career adaptations, economic and financial disruption, rapid technological evolution, social and political instability and global migration. All of this on top of 20 years of social upheaval and a constant shifting ground of unknown and unforeseen changes in the social order and academic institutional infrastructure. It seems incredible that this is the summation of human circumstance in the 21st Century.

As Dickens  wrote in The Tale of Two Cities “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” 

The Gen-Z generation and subsequent generations will have to negotiate and adapt to far greater change in a much shorter time span than any modern generation in human history. Surrounded by disruption and blindsiding change, this Generation is fully charged with anxiety and insecurity at a parallel moment of exciting opportunity for creativity and  innovation. Social change has always been driven by challenge and stress. What is new however is the level of stress and insecurity this world now is confronted with. It is an unprecedented  because the future is so opaque and unpredictable and moving toward humanity at an exponential rate.

The “new Normal” is – fast, unpredictable change toward a novel unplanned future. There is no going back to a “normal” past. Technology, Globalization, Global Inequity, Climate Change Impacts and Eroding Social/Political  Order have all blended together to compound the magnitude of change and unforeseen transformation; a level of transformation humans are unprepared for. And there is no magic, silver bullet to fix it. It is only with a shared sense of mutual purpose, hard self-sacrifice to over-come self-promotion over the common good, and a concerted effort over time, that a good global  society can be formed. 

The Gen-Z generation and their children will have to manage this change intelligently and thoughtfully – to ensure for themselves and future generations a viable and healthy global society. The challenge is so huge and complex that is it difficult to believe that it is possible to negotiate. But it is possible. The question is How?

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Retooling the Educational Model to Support the Gen-Z Generation

The fragmentation, isolation, insecurity which had seeped into the American psyche before Covid, has been magnified by Covid’s impact. Institutional confusion as to how to respond and the devastating results of very poor, self-promoting “leadership”, esp. in the initial months of the pandemic, has lead to much greater anxiety, distrust and resistance to anything resembling authority, expert or not,  than ever before in recent history.  

A generation of Gen-Z ers have known nothing (2001 to the present) but trauma, insecurity, a frightening disintegration of the floor of stability beneath them. The isolation necessary to control the Covid pandemic on top of the dysfunction of American political leadership and the growth of distrust in the stabilizing democratic institutions created in the past 100+ years,  as torn the fabric of heterogeneous human relations and unbalanced the perception of  what “reality” actually is.  

What to do? 

Students K-12 at least need a completely new set of educational experiences; ones that give them a deeper understanding of how to effectively manage their lives and how to make intelligent, thoughtful decisions about the present and future challenges life will throw at them.

A complete overhaul of the method of education, what students experience as learners, and skills that are relevant to a new world. 

  1. Break the lock of standardized assessments (SAT/ACT), broadening and deepening mastery of concepts and the interconnectedness of all aspects of the human experience. 
  2. Reframe the mission colleges and universities to present and future needs; to become places of creativity and dynamic discourse and inquiry, and not operate as corporate institutions with the financial bottom line being the driving impulse. This can only happen if all stakeholders (students, teachers, administrators, legislators, business leaders, politicians, investors, parents, communities) embrace a new model and mission for education. College should never be the place to build a resume, to jack up an individual’s “Brand”, as the status-driven vehicle for success  will throw at them in a zero-sum American culture. That, pathetically, is what they have become.

There is simply too much to do, to get right in this moment, for us to continue replicating the deeply outdated 19th century educational model we have been swimming in for 150 years. That brittle, impotent model is completely misaligned for dealing intelligently and wisely in addressing the massive and complex challenges of today and into the next several generations. 

The adults in the room need to act like adults and engage seriously in educational retooling, as a shared and financially painful effort to correct the skewed direction and crumbled institutional structures that are crippling America’s Gen-Z’s future.

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Bridge high school to college with a Gap Year(s) (What’s the hurry?)

High School ——> Gap Year ——> College —-> Life

Gen-Z students, those who are in high school or college have considerably more challenges, now and into the future than their parents or grand-parents ever had. They are more stressed out after 20 years of continual economic trauma and social and political fracturing, and a heavy dose of misinformation, distrust and disintegrating belief in their future opportunities. With 40+% of students struggling with their mental health, these young individuals will not be prepared to take on the profound transformations happening in the World today. 

Edward O.Wilson  believed  that “The real problem of humanity is … We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology” and so “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”  Impacts from inevitable Climate Change, expansion and contraction of global systems, rapid fusing of novel technologies evolving faster than humans can keep up with, and shifting career tracks that schools do not prepare them for;  all of this will be simply overwhelming.

The school system must adapt to the needs of these and future students. But creating  such a novel and truly effective institution of “learning” will take a great deal of time and experimentation. So how do today’s students gain some advantage in managing their futures? 

By taking time away from the school track to discover oneself, to take a walkabout, and experience the “rite of passage” of blooming into adulthood, and personal responsibility.

 Young humans, adolescents balanced between dependent child and independent adult, learn best by doing and living the experience, by reflecting with their peers “around the campfire”, and being closely mentored by experiential experts who guide and direct and socratically engage students to think for themselves, to learn to trust their instincts, and build balanced confidence in their abilities to grow, learn and intelligently adapt and create. For millennia before the modern era, the rite of passage was practiced by all cultures as a means of assuring the next generation of adults would prepared to take on the responsibility and leadership of the community. It is only in the past 80 years or so, that this passage has been blunted by an over-weaned  protectiveness, leaving several generations of young Americans incapable of managing their world with skill, in the interest of the community. 

The embraced concept of individual liberty founded in the spirit of the American movement of the 18th century has been warped with the disconnection and abandonment of the concomitant obligation to community (noblesse-oblige”),  by the embrace of the neoliberal “self-made man” meme. The American cowboy meme for the rugged individual, has been the abiding myth of the American culture. The self-man man has only obligation to himself, and none to the community or the greater good. This then is fertile territory for greed and self-interest to embed itself in social identity and individual purpose, that of self-engrandizement with little ethical regard to the social fall-out and erosion of societal purpose. And so here we are in 2022, faced with profound transformation, with limited experience and eroding social cohesion and fractaled future purpose. 

The Gap Year(s) can go a long way to reconstitute mechanisms for threading the disparate parts and binding essential social elements together, enough to drive the future at least in the general direction of a healthy future. 

This opens up a new mindset for these budding leaders, that cracks the status quo of cocooned thinking, which only leads to re-cycling the failed patterns of the past. And so the Gap Year(s) are an integral transitioning foundation to gift rising young adults to magnify and amplify their intellectual and social growth far beyond that experienced by former generations. And having a chance at directing a healthy future for humans will depend on all Gen-Z students growing as a cohort of thinking, capable individuals all focussed as a social movement on actively managing comprehensive paths to mitigate the worst of the future transformative pulses and spasms in the next 50 years or more.

College is a powerful environment for growth and personal transformation, but only if one is ready and primed to get the absolute most out of the experience. Especially liberal arts schools that can best offer students the exposure and practice developing solid capability in future skills essential to thrive in a shifting, morphing world. Developing: a growth mindset, discovering self-agency, truth-based critical thinking, expanding their world-view and cultural perspectives, honing creative frames of mind, exploring lateral and divergent thinking, and getting good at persistence and adapting to the rapid mutations in every aspect of life, in their future; all of these skills and more can be pre-set before going to college. If students have a chance to practice these skills before college, they will be much more capable of tapping deeply into the unique conversations and transformative thinking that the expansive liberal arts education can offer.

It is of singular importance that students choose to go to college to transform their perspective and ways of thinking and problem solving. To go to college to get a future job of high status and significant financial opportunity is simply foolish, because it is the chimera of a past American Dream for virtually everyone. The future, opaque as it is, can still be felt as a place of shifting need, unexpected hardship, profound opportunity, and multiple possible threads each with different outcomes for individuals and the World.

So the question is: how does anyone develop the essential skills that position the individual and as a result society, in the best position to make best decisions in the future interests of humanity? Before the essential transformations of the educational system occur in the next decade or two, taking a year or more to immerse oneself first hand in the profound variety of human experience in all of its glory and travails, in breathing in the spectacular wonder of the natural world,  in living life and practicing life as an independent individual, breaking out of our of the placidity and default to our status quo comfort Zone.

In light of the rapid, transformative disruptions (tech, it is morally indefensible to continue with a process of mass schooling that is indifferent to and ignorant of, the scope of these disruptions, and which promotes a value system (competition, growth, efficiency, homogeneity) that steers us towards the darker of the potential paths ahead. So until that day happens when education and social need are actually aligned and education becomes first and foremost a transformative experience, taking a Gap Year or more, is the best way to accelerate a growth mindset that has a chance of giving students a chance at a necessary level of future planning skills.

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The Gap Year As a Critical Thread to Future Success

Jake Horne and The Student Compass is a Gap Year, and College and Career mentor, for Gen-Z students. Faced with a confusing and a disruptive future, Gen-Z students need support and care now, more than any previous generation. Starting by taking a Gap Year would be foundational and integral for optimal college preparation.

The Gap Year is somewhat like an internship, but unlike the job internship, the Gap year is  uniquely an experiential preparation for life.  High School Gen-Z students are still very much adolescent, stuck between being the dependent child and becoming an independent person. They are remarkably unprepared to take on the role of adulthood and have not had the opportunity to develop the cognitive maturity and life skills emotional intelligence so critical for 21st century challenges. The archaic school curriculum called school of today, is fact focussed and not future skills oriented. Gen-Zers need a break to learn about themselves and how the new World works. Taking a year away from school, offers them time to grow and immerse themselves in the skills they will need to adapt to the profound transformations in their near future;  exponential Tech uptake, climate change, and a full range of global threats. 

So what does the Gap Year give them? The Gap Year is like a delta of myriad, complex learning channels that split off of the traditional K-12 siloed main channel as it heads to the ocean of college and life. These new life threads require students to learn how to navigate unexpected the turns and shoals, broaden their view of seeing the unsheltered difficulties of the real World for the first time. Seeing the World in whole new different ways and reckoning with challenges as independent humans, build confidence and a growth mindset, critical for future rapid change. It is the beginning of the essential transformation from a child to adult, from a dependent to a self-directed human. This is  the “rite of Passage” a social practice in all human societies for millennia, but abandoned in the 20th century. It is the “change” from child to adult. 

The Gap Year(s) can go a long way beef up students motivation, curiousity and reduce anxiety and hopelessness about the future. Students can find purpose for their lives. 

This opens up a new growth mindset for these budding leaders;  that cracks open cocooned thinking- the static mindset that re-cycles the failed patterns of the past. And so the Gap Year(s) are an integral transitioning foundation to gift rising young adults to magnify and amplify their intellectual and social growth far beyond that experienced by former generations. And having a chance at directing a healthy future for humans will depend on all Gen-Z students growing as a cohort of thinking, capable individuals all focussed as a social movement on actively managing comprehensive paths to mitigate the worst of the future transformative pulses and spasms in the next 50 years or more.

College is a powerful environment for growth and personal transformation, but only if one is ready and primed to get the absolute most out of the experience. Especially liberal arts schools that can best offer students the exposure and practice in developing solid capability in future skills essential to thrive in an opaque shifting, morphing world. Developing: a growth mindset, discovering self-agency, practicing truth-based critical thinking, expanding one’s world-view and cultural perspectives, honing creative frames of mind, exploring lateral and divergent thinking, and getting good at the persistence and adaptation to the rapid mutations we increasingly encounter in every aspect of life and will into the future; all of these skills should be pre-set before going to college. If students have a chance to practice these skills before college, they will be much more capable of tapping deeply into the unique conversations and transformative thinking that the expansive liberal arts education can offer.

So take a Gap Year and open your mind to new possibilities, dynamic self-discovery and be far more prepared to thrive, lead and contribute to society with a deepened sense of your life’s purpose. It will make your college experience  truly dynamic and profoundly valuable, and provide you with the necessary foundation to your thriving future-self.

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Why Go To College?  If you are going to college, do it for the right reasons.

If you have an active and curious mind, if you are an explorer of ideas, if you are an anthropologist of new social perspectives, if you want to surround yourself with vigorous intellectual debate and fascinating people who want to share with you the range of perspectives of how the World works, THEN college is an amazing place to be.

If HOWEVER: 1. you are ambivalent about college; 2. if you are going just because you assume that school is just a transactional engagement with you being passively present and the teacher filling your brain with knowledge; 3. if you think college will prepare you for the future just because you attend; 4. if you think college is where you go as a reward for achieving a solid high school transcript and it is your reward; 5.  and/ or if you think it is an essential badge for getting your first job, THEN college isn’t the right place for you to be, YET!

You must be really ready to actively soak up the vigorous energy and concentrated intellectual world of college!   If you aren’t, TAKE A GAP Year . 

Discover the World and take the time to deeply consider what your place is in this World. Refresh your mind and separate yourself from your static social cocoon. Dive into new cultures and different ways of seeing the World through the eyes of others.

 Colleges love Gap Year students. Colleges know they are much more focussed and engaged in the intellectual and unique cultural life colleges offer. 

The Gap Year will set you up for a purposeful, fascinating and invaluable college experience; to soak up new ideas, create new and important life-long relationships and prepare yourself for the complexities of the future World. Entering college as an “adult”, self-propelled by curiosity, self-agency and purpose gets you much more bang for your tuition buck and opens your mind to the unique and concentrated opportunities of a true and deep college experience. And it means you will be much more ready to take on the profound transformations roaring toward you.

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 The Trauma of the Gen Zers 2000-2022

(Excerpted from Fight: How Gen Z Is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America – authored by John Della Volpe)

For Generation Z, fear, stress, and anxiety have been the dominant forces shaping the generation. Why is that? What is the World they have grow up in?

When the oldest Zoomers were in preschool, George W. Bush won the presidency by less than a thousand votes, amid claims of fraud and suppression. Within a year, the 9/11 attacks occurred. Then there ensued a search for WMDs that did not exist, Hurricane Katrina, and the beginning of America’s longest war. 

Next, the 2008 financial crisis, the housing crisis, and bailouts for those who caused the crises, while Main Street, which suffered it, was ignored. 

On top of this, Gen Z endured the opioid epidemic and witnessed the militarization of police and national borders, an explosion of white nationalism, frightening red-alert active-shooter drills and school lockdowns, increasingly frequent and deadly mass shootings, the accelerating and genuine threat of climate change, and a global pandemic and lockdown with a yet-undetermined impact on Zers’ mental health and education. 

And most recently, a conspiracy-fueled insurgency has been bent on tearing down our institutions and kidnapping and assassinating our elected leaders. Even the bright spots of Obama’s historic election in 2008 and the official end of the Great Recession in 2009 turned dark. In 2010, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Washington, DC, became a battleground. 

The following year, in terms every once-closeted racist heard loud and clear, Donald Trump—and soon Roger Ailes’s Fox News—fully embraced “birtherism,” suggesting that the only president Generation Z really knew wasn’t even an American. “Maybe he’s a Muslim; I don’t know,”1 said our future commander in chief, perpetuating wildly racist depictions of Muslims as anti-American terrorists. 

Social media has connected the like-minded in ways their parents who remember CompuServe could never have dreamed of. It helped give rise to the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter, to Bernie Sanders and AOC, but it also enabled the rise of bots, trolls, QAnon, Russian interference, and alt-right terrorists, while Silicon Valley titans Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey looked away, counting their billions. 

By 2017, researchers had already reported that rates of depression and anxiety, especially among youths, were higher than at any other point in history. And then Trump blew everything up, further dividing America, fueling racism, undermining the justice system, destroying trust in science, creating even greater gaps between the rich and the poor, before he oversaw the early response to COVID-19, which has claimed more than nine hundred thousand American lives.

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Time to Grow Up

We are living in an increasingly small world, with borders and siloed thinking becoming the default reactionary behavior and damaging to the social, economic and environmental health of the entire world system. “First World” societies have been far too complacent and self-absorbed to pay serious attention to the reality that we are all in this together.

If we don’t grow up and build an expanded sense of shared circumstance, the continued devolution of social systems and enlightened cultural development, impacting every level of socio-economic stata, will simply broaden and deepen.

This is the world we gift our children and children’s children. Time to grow up and take responsibility! Trashing, factionalizing and trivializing “the other” is self-destructive and leads to profound damage to all. Tribal thinking is the sanctuary of the primitive and frightened. It’s time to become brave, courageous, empathic, inclusive and thoughtful.

So stop following the easy path of finger-pointing and being the victim. Be responsible for your own behavior, and the welfare of not only your family, but also for the wonderfully diverse and dynamic community, society and global communities that you, me, we all live in.

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Preparing for the Future: Careers & Life Transformations Ahead for Our Kids

So what is coming down the pipeline for this next generation of young adults? What change, what transformations, what challenges????
A fusing of technologies; technologies embraced by half of the World population, instantaneously accessible and fluidly transferable through nanosecond-speed flows of information and data in a global neural network,  all wrapped within an World of environmental change.
The blend of these transformations will have significant secondary effects which the global society will need to manage intelligently and at a much more rapid pace and ability that at anytime in human history.
1. Business will have to change their operational models and value chains will all be challenged, requiring business to adapt or die.  2. A majority of jobs and careers that we have grown up with will morph or disappear entirely, replaced by others yet to be envisioned.  3. Stresses on access to resources and imbalances of equality of opportunity and wealth will become deeper and broader;  4. cyber-security, privacy and asymmetrical conflict will be increasingly prevalent and challenging to manage,                    5. requiring governments to become much more agile and capable in dealing with digital threats.  6. And cohesion of human and social identity will increasingly become redefined in novel and unexpected forms, creating ethical dilemmas stretching human capacity to resolve.
All of these transformations and challenges, present a significant redefinition of what our future world will look like. And it will offer profound opportunities for students and the next generations of humans think about what type of world they want to live in and prepare for.
Tennyson reflected on the rapid changes in England during the 2nd Industrial Revolution of the 1800s; especially those of industrial materials manufacturing, mass assembly production, the steam engine and transportation innovation (trains) in his lines: “let the great World spin forever down the ringing grooves of change“.  Human experience has always been about change. But what is so terribly different now is the pace and depth of that change. In the  Tennyson world, society  was radically changed, but in a relatively short time frame, it adapted (albeit with a lot of social pain). But it did catch up and a new social order was created. However, this new Industrial Revolution, the 4th, is changing  5 to 20 times faster than the previous Industrial Revolution. The human institutions, the human social order, the human mu=ind just can’t keep up with the pace of change. And as a result, dislocations, social pain and instability will be profound and so disruptive, that the result will be an continuous and never-ending  catchup game, with humans never really able to control, modify or mitigate  the distortions that will challenge social order and social systems we have all expected as true and essential for our well-being.
   Change is here and will continue to flow at us from all directions with overlapping effects and ramified confluence. Will you, our children and children’s children, be ready to manage and sustain a healthy world for your own and for future generations?
A new form of education, unlike any we have yet created or experienced must become a foundation for future capability. All of societies stakeholders,: families, students, communities, businesses, political institutions, social associations, not-for-profit organizations, academic institutions, all must create a shared vision which will give students the tools and habits of thinking and of the mind to design and adapt for profound change. This will need to be a group effort at an unprecedented scale.
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Existentialism and Instagram by Andrew Housiaux November 25, 2019

from  the Philips Andover Bulletin

Teenagers reflect on technology and being human, with the help of Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Pascal, and Sartre. 

You might wonder what a group of American teenagers have in common with existentialist philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre. Three words in particular come to mind: dread, anxiety, and despair. Existentialist thinkers, and many of their philosophical predecessors, saw these moods as central to the human predicament. And these are feelings that many students today can relate to just as strongly.  
The existentialists argued for facing, reflecting on, and understanding these feelings to live a free and authentic life. This led me to wonder what I and my high school philosophy students could learn about anxiety and despair if the students decided to confront these existential anxieties head-on by giving up their cell phones and using the time they gained for personal reflection. Further, what might this experience reveal about how best to educate students today? 
Phillips Academy is a boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts. With an average class size of 13, the school is able to have students regularly engage in seminar-style discussions. Some of these particulars about small class sizes or a residential environment may not be shared in all school contexts, but there are lessons from our experience to be learned and shared with educators everywhere.  
About halfway into a 10-week course on existential philosophy, I could see that students were able to demonstrate a good understanding of the words of the texts we discussed — no mean feat given their complexity. However, I was concerned about a gap between their intellectual knowledge and their understanding of how the ideas we had been studying related to their lives. 
Keeping in mind John Dewey’s ideas about students learning not from experience alone but from reflection on experience, I gave my students the option to turn in their cell phone for 72 hours, during which time I would keep them locked in a drawer in my office. Reactions to this proposal varied widely: There was excitement, curiosity, even a sense of panic. One student fled the room when I announced the optional exercise, although she returned sheepishly later that day, handing me her phone. All told, eight out of 14 students participated the first time I did this experiment, and a similar number did so in subsequent years. At the end of the week, students wrote an in-class essay in which they drew upon ideas of the existentialist thinkers we had been studying to analyze their experience of not having their phone for three days. Their reflections showed that they had begun to close the gap between intellectual knowledge and deep experience and, in so doing, had come to a much deeper understanding of these ideas. 
Their thoughts also offer insight into three major causes of distress facing adolescents today: first, anxiety around social media; second, difficulty enduring mental and physical discomfort, especially in the absence of stimulation; and third, deep-seated anxiety over what it means to be a free human, responsible for one’s choices.
Anxiety, social media, and “the crowd”: Reflections on Kierkegaard  
Our study of Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th-century Danish philosopher, helped students better understand their simultaneous and contradictory longings for independence and approval from their peers. Warning about the dangers of conformity, Kierkegaard (1859/1975) wrote,  “a crowd in its very concept is the untruth, by reason of the fact that it renders the individual completely impenitent and irresponsible” (p. 95). His concerns about the ways individuals can lose themselves in the crowd were echoed in several student essays. One wrote: 
On a walk back to my dorm from orchestra rehearsal on Thursday evening, I broke down in tears. I felt intense anxiety over the fact that not only have I wasted so much of my life staring at a screen, but that I don’t have the willpower to break free from the crowd that is phone users. 
 This magnetic pull of the phone is caused in part by the fact that many of our students access their social world through it. Even though this student frets over the amount of time she has spent on her phone, she does not see herself as able to refrain from using it. Her words point to the power of the crowd — in this case, the social media networks that students participate in. It can be simply too difficult to turn away from this crowd, a social phenomenon exacerbated by Snapchat streaks (which encourage users to log in to Snapchat daily) and embodied in the acronym FOMO: fear of missing out. 
A second student wrote about adjusting her self-presentation for those who would be viewing her online posts: “To use words Kierkegaard might, how can I get the largest possible crowd to give their approval?” This student realized that she had been creating a curated — and, ultimately, fabricated — self, editing pictures for the crowd’s approval. 
“To use words Kierkegaard might, how can I get the largest possible crowd to give their approval?”
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These two examples point to deeper challenges. The student leaving orchestra rehearsal framed her struggles as a lack of volition: “I don’t have the willpower to break free.” Her analysis is as poignant as it is incomplete. She is using a device and apps that have been designed to be addictive and take advantage of hard-wired human needs for pleasure and social approval. Tristan Harris, a former product manager at Google and the founder of the Center for Humane Technology, argues that this technology is “not designed to help us. It’s designed to keep us hooked” (Vox Media, 2018). After all, the more users interact with certain apps, the more data their developers will have to sell to advertisers. Harris compares the refresh feature in several popular apps to the playing of a slot machine, an experience designed to give the illusion of control to the user. Players keep pulling the lever — or refreshing the screen — in hopes of a reward. And, when the reward comes in the form of “likes” on their posts, students alter their self-presentation to increase their chances of getting more rewards. Students, with their still-developing brains and deeply felt desire for approval, are highly vulnerable to the techniques social media designers use to keep them online.  
Embodied physical and mental anguish:  Pascal and boredom 
In the absence of their phones, the students had to confront boredom and the accompanying persistent discomfort. They began to appreciate in a deeper way the words of the 17th-century philosopher Blaise Pascal (1670/1995), who asserted that “the sole cause of [humanity’s] unhappiness is that [we] do not know how to stay quietly in [our] room” (p. 37). Reflecting on this plight, one student wrote, “I know my phone is not healthy for me, but nonetheless I am almost always scrolling. It is an escape from the acute consciousness that humanity suffers from.” These words point to a deep tension in students’ use of their cell phones: They know intellectually that the way they use their phone is not good for them, but their experience is that the phone provides a temporary (albeit inadequate) refuge in moments of distress. Later in her essay, this student said that her phone “allows me to choose when to think and when I don’t. It’s a simple off switch that I can fit in my hand.” These reflections echo the findings of a group of scientists who found that people preferred electric shocks to the experience of sitting alone in a room (Wilson et al., 2014). Scrolling on the cell phone can provide a temporary respite from discomfort, but procrastination and time on social media often exacerbate their distress in the long term.  
Another student described his phone simply as a “personal anxiety coping mechanism.” Without this security blanket, students were often adrift; they had not learned to be by themselves or understand their inner lives well. Being without a phone could be overwhelming, as it was for the student who broke down in tears upon leaving her orchestra rehearsal. For another student, “what began as a pleasant freedom from a sense of obligation to submerge myself in social media quickly turned into profound loneliness, the sensation pulling me into deep thought like the undertow of a wave.” These strong emotions had been kept at bay when students had something to distract themselves with, but they emerged with force once that stimulation was absent.  
Follow-up conversations with these students revealed them to be more resilient than their initial raw reflections might have suggested. But this experience nonetheless revealed to students a baseline level of distress and anxiety that they had previously been able to suppress via technological distractions. It also helped to illuminate the deeper meaning of words like dread and despair that they had used more casually in class discussions earlier in the term. 
Not all experiences of abandoning digital distraction were negative. Several students so enjoyed the freedom and peace of mind that came from this new way of being in the world that they left their phones in my office past the initial three days. Two students’ phones stayed in my office for more than a month. Another student wrote that whereas he previously would use his phone to “bore my mind into numbness until the fear subsides,” by the end of the three days he had begun reading for fun and had begun to write a short story. This student reported that “by isolating myself from my phone, I began to do things much more authentically than I do on a daily basis.”  
The anxiety of freedom:  Sartre and Dostoyevsky 
The students overwhelmingly saw time on their phones as a flight from freedom, giving them a new understanding of Sartre’s (1946/2007) assertion that “[we] are condemned to be free” (p. 29). For some, this freedom was simply too much to bear. The student whose freedom from his phone led him to reading and writing a short story also began to question some of the academic work he was being asked to do, with the result that he stopped doing homework entirely in two classes to focus on these more creative pursuits. Because of this, he ultimately decided that “acting freely was not conducive toward success. . . . I got yelled at in both my physics and math classes.” 
Another student began to understand how the freedom she thought she had was an illusion: “I use my phone as a tool of self-limitation, in which I believe that I am in control. . . . In reality, am I in control? Or am I losing part of what it means to be human?” In our discussion of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, several students pointed to the Grand Inquisitor’s assertion that there exists a “universal and everlasting anguish of man as an individual being, and the whole of mankind together, namely: ‘before whom shall I bow down?’ ” (Dostoyevsky, 1880/2002, p. 254). These students saw that while their phones offered the veneer of choice, they were in fact largely enchained by technology and their emotional responses to it.  
At the conclusion of her essay, the student who fretted about her loss of control reflected on her fraught relationship with her phone: “I cannot blame myself for attempting to distance myself from the endless dread, I must keep my obsessions with distraction in check, as to not lose my identity as a free human being.” What does it mean to be a free human being? It is hard to imagine a more central question in the study of philosophy and, even more important, in the lives of our students. 

What this means for educators 
To anyone who has worked with adolescents over the past decade, the centrality of cell phones and social media in these students’ lives is no surprise. But what is new is how well these students are able to talk about their own lives and choices. One student who ended up leaving his phone with me for three weeks observed that “it is my conditioned outlook on life, and my fear of it, that call for real attention.” Words like this would make the existentialists proud because they show a student choosing to turn toward their fear, rather than away from it. No matter their experience, these students were able to offer such compelling reflections precisely because they were in dialogue with powerful thinkers. By stepping away from their cell phones, paying close attention to their inner lives and moods, and then bringing those experiences into dialogue with central texts in philosophy and literature, they were able to better understand themselves and the motivations and impulses behind their use of technology.  
This experiment shows clearly that students are interested in reflecting on and understanding their whole lives, on and offline. As educators, our task is to invite this part of their lives into the classroom, connecting it to central themes and questions in the humanities, giving students the language and ideas to articulate how they can best lead freely chosen and authentic lives.  

Dostoyevsky, F. (2002). The Brothers Karamazov (R. Pevear and L. Volokhonsky, trans.). New York, NY: FSG. (Original work published 1880) 
Kierkegaard, S. (1975). That individual. In W. Kaufmann (Ed.), Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre (pp. 94-101). New York, NY: Penguin. (Original work published 1859) 
Pascal, B. (1995). Pensées (A. Krailsheimer, trans.). New York, NY: Penguin. (Original work published 1670) 
Sartre, J. (2007). Existentialism is a humanism (C. Macomber, trans.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. (Original work published 1946) 
Vox media. (2018, February 23). It’s not you. Phones are designed to be addicting. 
Wilson, T.D., Reinhard, D.A., Westgate, E.C., Gilbert, D.T., Ellerbeck, N., Hahn, C. . . . Shaked, A. (2014). Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind. Science, 345 (6192), 75-77. 

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Opposite Direction: Today’s political and social wrangling deflect and set back serious action in the face of profound Future Disruptions. Time is running out fast!!

All of the political mayhem the USA and around the World is sucking the energy out of focussing on the enormous issues and disruptions that humans need to prepare for NOW; occurring in the present and increasingly in the future.

Educating ourselves and our children and their children to think and behave differently, creatively, with thoughtfulness and deep critical analysis about how to manage the: technology innovations; the ethical and destructive implications of continuing to ignore the coming disruptions in society; the threat to social and nation-state and global cohesion and human well-being – is absolutely pathetic and so human-like (we are flawed beings).

Not realizing that the whole World will be impacted is the Ostrich Effect.  “It might happen to others but not to me and my family!”  Tribalism is our undoing. Thinking like a victim is no protection. Thinking we are immune because of high status or exceptionalism is no safe haven. 

Rich, poor, white sheltered suburban, white entrepreneurial, non-white, non-American… all can’t nor will anyone be able to escape this deluge of change.

What we can do is start to behave with intelligence knowing that we are all in the same boat. Profound Technological Innovation changes the workforce dynamic, the way we as a local, regional, national and global society will relate and value ourselves; as collaborators pulling together or as shredders of the fabric of societal networks which connect, stabilize and secure all realms of human experience.

Global Climate Change impacts everyone, the resulting conflicts – for land, resources, safety – all of us, everyone,  everywhere, will feel the hard reality of significant disruptive changes. There will no longer a  “getting back to the good old days” or “making American Great Again”.

We squandered those days and ignored realities right before our eyes. And our children and grandchildren and their children will pay for our self-absorbed, self-important thoughtlessness.

The high minded, righteousness of the Woodstock Nation became bankrupt and slewed around through complacency and the allure of   socio/economic status and self-importance. 

The USA is NOT an ISLAND. It is part of a whole interconnected global system, ecologically and digitally interwoven. We all rise or fall together.

AND Building the Bunker won’t save anyone. It just prolongs the inevitable.

So we all need to pull ourselves together, and know the Future is as important to our families, our grandchildren and their children and future society – as getting through the present, as squabbling and yowling, destructive adolescents.
Fools we are.

Fools will we always be??

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