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The Digitally Winged Generation & The Quest For Deeper Roots

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“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots; the other wings.” -W. Hodding Carter, II.

 

Over the past year, our family embarked upon a new adventure. We traded in our suburban life in South Louisiana and moved to the country in North Louisiana.

We are no longer surrounded by Whole Foods, Starbucks and Barnes & Nobles. We now find ourselves nestled in the agricultural embrace of the Cane River National Heritage Area, surrounded by corn, cotton and coyotes.

Our move north brought with it an old house. A 19th century Creole cottage that my 11-year-old daughter sarcastically describes as “the oldest house in the world.” The simple luxuries of closets and modern shower configurations have been replaced with armoires and claw foot tubs.

It has been a year of change.

An Emerging Distance From Our Authentic Selves

Big life changes made beyond a certain age breed funny looks and lots of questions.  At some point, life is just supposed to be settled.  Decisions made to voluntarily disrupt a so-called settled life leave most of us scratching our heads.

Our decision to simultaneously move both forward and backward to our small hometown of Natchitoches, Louisiana came with its fair share of questions and head scratching from family, friends and colleagues.

Given that the decision came after years of thought and countless late night conversations, one would think that it would be easy for my wife, Holly, and I to articulate coherent answers to the legitimate questions of why we decided to make the move. One would be wrong.

Despite the clarity of our conviction, when asked about the move, the best answers we usually offer are some collection of cliché phrases like “being closer to family” or “wanting to slow down.” Sometimes we throw in a mysterious “something was just missing” or invoke buzzwords like “community” and “connection.”

While those fragmented words and phrases are true, they are not really the truth. The truth is harder to explain and has taken a year of us living in our new surroundings to fully understand.

In our mid 30’s, down in the trenches of career ambition and parenting small children, “something was just missing.” There was a growing sense of restlessness and discontent.

Self-determination theory holds that human beings need three basic things to be content: 1) they need to feel competent at what they do; 2) they need to feel authentic in their lives; and 3) they need to feel connected to others.

Our feelings of unease that precipitated our big life change would best be described as an emerging distance from our authentic selves.

au-then-tic: of undisputed origin. genuine.

We were changing. And the changes were venturing beyond the healthy growth and evolution of adulthood. The changes were creeping into our “undisputed origin.” And that gave us pause.

The Age of Acceleration

We live in an unprecedented time of change that some have come to call the Age of Acceleration.

As Thomas Friedman explains in his most recent book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimists Guide To Surviving In The Age of Acceleration, “…we are living through one of the greatest inflection points in history – perhaps unequaled since Johannes Gensfleich zur Laden zum Gutenberg, a German blacksmith and printer, launched the printing revolution in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation.”

Ray Kurzweil, the director of engineering at Google, explains that “[b]ecause of the explosive power of exponential growth, the twenty-first century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate…”

The largest forces on the planet, including technology and globalization, are accelerating at unprecedented speeds. Why is this happening?

Friedman explains that the exponential increase in computing power defined by Moore’s law has a lot to do with it. Moore’s law, named after Intel co-founder, Gordon Moore, generally stands for the proposition that computing power tends to double every two years. As a result of this doubling, tripling and quadrupling of the power of our most influential modern tool – the computer – our world is changing rapidly as our use of that tool changes.

The year 2007 was a benchmark in the acceleration process: the release of the iPhone, along with advances in silicon chips, storage, software, and networking created a new technology platform. Friedman calls this platform “the supernova” because of its incredible release of energy that is reshaping everything from how we hail a taxi to our most intimate relationships to the fate of nations.

As a result of this acceleration in technology and globalization, Friedman explains that key realms of our society, including the community, the workplace, politics, and ethics, are being reshaped and redefined.

Many of us are left feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the dizzying pace of change and uncertainty.

The Digitally Winged Generation

Holly and I had not yet heard of the Age of Acceleration as we talked (sometimes argued) through our feelings of restlessness. It was only after our move that Friedman’s book was published and seemed to give coherent voice to some of the things we were intuitively feeling.

Despite our growing feelings of discontent, if not for our children, we probably would not have made a significant change. Our kids seem to be the great catalyst in our lives that push us past complacency and towards deeper thought and wiser action.

Holly and I both grew up on the eve of the Internet explosion. We graduated high school without smart phones, email addresses or Google. Our parents’ primary challenge was to equip us with the intellectual, emotional and experiential wings that would afford us the opportunity to soar beyond the bounds of the physical location of our childhood.

We now find ourselves parenting children born with Digital Wings. Wings made out of iPhones, Wi-Fi networks, and cloud based “computing solutions.” These Digital Wings have the capacity to “connect” them to people all over the world and provide them with “answers” to all of their questions. Unlimited information on any given topic, at any given time, is only a tap of the screen away.

Their Digital Wings allow them to soar (or create the illusion of soaring) beyond the bounds of their physical location almost from birth. But the easy access and exposure to infinite information carries with it new parenting conundrums.

The Quest For Deeper Roots

Holly and I struggled with a growing fear that our kids, while armed with all of the ammunition of the Age of Acceleration, might grow up lacking the real life connectivity and community that proved pivotal in the development of our authentic selves.

We struggled with fears that while our children might know their family within the context of Face Time sessions, weekend trips, and Christmas holidays, that simply would not be enough in the Age of Acceleration. A closer relationship was necessary for them to more fully understand their “undisputed origin.”

In short, we wanted our kids to develop deeper roots. We hoped deeper roots would provide a better counter balance to the strength of their Digital Wings.   We hoped those deeper roots would lead to a healthier development of their “authentic self.”

So Holly and I decided to disrupt our so-called settled life and change the trajectory of our family. We decided to make the great parenting gamble of our 30’s. We decided to “go all in” on the development of “authentic self” and “undisputed origin” as the great competitive advantage in the Age of Acceleration. And for us, that meant coming home and changing how we live.

Fertile Soil

With the one-year anniversary of our move home, we find ourselves looking back and reflecting.

The tools of our modern world enabled our move back home. A paperless law practice, Internet phones, Skype, and all sorts of other technology allow me to practice the office aspects of the law from a refurbished barn in Natchitoches Parish, while fully connected to a physical office in downtown New Orleans.

Amazon Prime, Blue Apron, and host of other e-businesses equip our modern family, now living in the “oldest house in the world” in the middle of a cornfield, with the same goods that we grew accustomed to using in our suburban life in South Louisiana.

Has it been easy? Nope. At times, our attempts to blend the old with the new (both physically and emotionally) has been tough. Each member of our family has gone through their own acclimation process. There have been bouts of short-term regret followed by continued long-term optimism.

Have Holly and I changed?  Yeah. There has been a shifting of priorities that while necessary has been uncomfortable at times. We find ourselves “slowing down” in some of the less important areas of our life and speeding up in some of the more important ones. The result is a kind of emotional whiplash that we did not fully anticipate.

Have our kids changed?  Yeah. They are immersed in family – a 93 year-old great grandmother, both sets of grandparents, aunt and uncles, great aunts and uncles, and multiple generations of cousins.  A greater understanding of their “undisputed origin” is facilitating a different type of growth.

Have we found that sense of “community” that we were searching for? Yeah. A year after the move back home and our kids are still amazed that they see many of the same faces across the spectrum of their various activities – school, church, sports, summer camps, festivals, the grocery store, etc. The consistency and connectivity of a small town was something we grew up taking for granted.  Our kids do not.

At over 300 years old, our new/old hometown of Natchitoches, Louisiana is the oldest permanent settlement west of the Mississippi River. It overcame historical obstacles that cratered thousands of other little communities along the way. There is a tangible grit and worldly wisdom that develops in a community that survives that long.

Natchitoches was built along the banks of a river and grew to prominence through the agricultural opportunities afforded its residents by the region’s fertile soil.

By 1790, Natchitoches planters grew over 700,000 pounds of tobacco and were the Spanish empire’s primary source of the profitable crop.

In the 1800’s, Natchitoches farmers were the first to cultivate cotton west of the Mississippi River. The region would come to be known by French settlers as Le Cote Joyeuse or “the joyous coast” because of its bountiful harvests.

Today, tourists flock to Natchitoches to stroll its brick paved streets and marvel at the 100, 200 and even 300-year-old live oaks that seem to grow on every corner.

Fertile ground to plant a family in the Age of Acceleration.