Creative: The Death of a Generation or Two

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I wrote this post several months ago, but yesterday I witnessed something I’m using as an additional piece of this little story.

I stopped at my fav coffeeshop to have my half-caf, decaf, whipped, mocha, coconut flaming whip cream boat and noticed a kid in his 20’s come in, sit down and begin to attempt to edit video. I was intrigued because I too have to edit video from time to time, and seeing as I’m new to this game I thought I might be able to learn a few things. Kid sat down, opened up Premiere and rolled approximately four seconds of motion content. Then he hit the space bar, stopped the motion and picked up his phone. He was bouncing in and out of two social media apps. IG and Snapchat. He also had headphones on and I’m sure he was listening to music because he was also bouncing in and out of Spotify. And he was doing email. And he was texting. I could see it all. He was five feet away. He had his entire scene setup, everything including the coffee, his food, his laptop, his bag, his uber trendy little journal and all the right pens…everything was in the perfect place. And then he did absolutely NOTHING. He just bounced from app to music to songs to text to app to music to email to text to social to app to social to text to social to music. He never returned to Premiere and his editing attempt. And then I looked around at a half dozen other kids the same age and they were all doing the exact same thing. NOTHING.

I have to get this off my chest. (from a few months ago)

Yesterday I watched five people under thirty spend eight hours straight staring at both their laptops and their phones. Screens. They rarely if ever spoke to one another and only moved to plug in or use the restroom. This has to be one of the saddest, most pathetic things I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve seen some nasty shit in my life, mostly through the viewfinder. Death by gunfire, fire, auto accident, domestic violence and natural disaster, and while they were traumatic events, and far from pleasant to look at, they were nothing in comparison to watching a generation, or two, die a slow death via screen.

All five were out of shape and prematurely gray. They looked lost, zoned, like zombies. At an event where their sole mission was to engage with fellow humans they chose instead to live through the pixel, ignoring eight straight hours of opportunity.

At dinner the same day I watched a mother sit down with her children and provide them with the digital drug. They were fidgety, nervous and explosively tempermental. Unable to even answer the waitress as she asked what they would like to eat.They threw tantrums every single time the mother tried to remove the device. How unfair to our kids to provide them with this life at such a early age. Their tiny brains splintered a thousand times over, each and every day, making real life seem dull, slow and avoidable. Just get back to the screen.

Adults have become no better. Hooked on Facebook and Instagram and the parallel lie of life online. The screen has fueled a greed never before seen on planet Earth. To truly own the algorithm you must play by the rules and the rules want more and more and more of your time and information. The most creative people in the world fall in line and lose what made them creative in the first place, independent thought. Conform, post, conform, post, conform, post. All the while the tech oligarchs amass more wealth than ever before. Then we learn what they are like in their private life. Then we learn what their real agendas are, and how evil, selfish, deceptive and bigoted, and yet the game still plays. Addicts. Dopamine junkies revealing their private lives like an oil spill across the web.

And we wonder how someone like The Freak gets elected. Gee, shocking. All a joke until it wasn’t. I’ve said this all along. We deserve what’s coming. I keep trying to find a better answer but so far have been unable. We deserve what’s coming. We really do. A major restart. I just hope the crack in the foundation doesn’t slip too far, too wide, for a repair to succeed.

I know I’m on to something with this talk of the hollowness of technology because the rage these posts induce. The name calling, the condemnation. I’ve never seen an easy intervention. Instead of tackling real issues we design AI and self-driving cars because these are things we just can’t live without. A terrorist strike in the UK and the media talks of how social media helped one teen find another, losing track of the storyline in an attempt to fill dead air. Then come the “correspondents” reading tweets from celebrities. Minutes later the same network asks for our trust in their coverage. And this doesn’t seem strange to anyone because most of us aren’t paying attention, and don’t know the root cause of the problem anyway, because those stories are boring- if and when they are actually covered- and get lost in the click bait, listicles and micro doses of useless information.

Perhaps more than anything else the screen has allowed us to become more and more self-centered. Every single event, happening or gesture is filtered through our own reflection which in turn is filtered through public perception of our online selves. The Internet has given us truly remarkable things. Cat videos, unboxing videos, car chases, glimpses of deep and meaningful lives of celebrities not to mention access to a level of consumerism beyond any vendor’s wildest dreams, so I’m not knocking it entirely.

In short, we’ve become a bit of a bore. Our culture, or lack of, seems content with conformity and passiveness. Our acceptance of mediocrity and compromise is legendary. The truth something to be rewritten as it suits us, and attention to detail something reserved for the latest outfit. We are talkers now, less doers, less willing to get dirty, make sacrifice or strive for what’s best for our neighbors. What neighbors? Exactly. Just people lost in the binging of season six.

There is no easy fix. Wait for the next generation to emerge, or whatever generation survives the Internet with their actual, human brains intact. Free thinkers bound to the planet and humanity through blood not data. I will be long gone, but I envision a restructured world of forced back into balance through the basic need of survival and not the latest gadget.

One of my pet peeves is when people see a project I’ve done or a book I’ve done and they say “Oh, I wish I had the time do what you did, but I’m just so busy.” The vast majority of these cases the people actually do have the time, but they choose to use their time in other ways that allow them to feel like to they are too busy to accomplish something. The truth is I’m not that talented. What I am is focused. I can sustain focus for LONG periods of time. A few days ago I drove over 1000 miles in one day. I can do this because I’m focused. I created two 80-page books in less than 24-hours. Focus. No distractions. No television. No Internet. No social. Just work. But working this way isn’t flashy and it won’t gain you following. It won’t entertain you like shooting up the Internet.

“My child is a junky,” a dad said to me recently. I look at these kids, young-adults and wonder what they could accomplish if they were focused? Most of these kids are talented in a new way. Like all generations they will challenge us and inspire us, but I don’t believe the hype about multitasking. Most of the time when I point out observations like this I’m met with vitriol and hate because people are utterly lost without their digital life. When you are addicted to something that first stage of denial is often the most difficult to overcome.

Comments 14

  1. AaaHHHhhhhhhhh!!!! Mr. Milnor, (well done) I have a written piece to show you next time we are in front of each other with coffee
    between us.
    (from Berlin)

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  2. I was here reading your piece nodding along all the time. That is great stuff Daniel. I also find incredibly sad to see all these children lost on their phones (with their parents doing the same), I also find unnerving and infuriating whenever somebody says “ohhh but I just don’t have time”. I have a 5 year old girl and she will soon start asking “papa’, ma perche’ tutti gli altri bimbi possono giocare sui loro telefonini e io no?” (=Dad, why all the other kids can play on their phones but not me?), but in the meantime I try to show her the fun in riding a bike, learning to skate (yes I’m a 45 yrs old just learning how to ride a board), running for the sake of it without the pressure that adults put on them. Last saturday, I ran an half-marathon and then we did together the kids race. We enjoyed it, she ran like mad, just because it was fun but at the finish line I could see so many kids actually crying because they didnt win or something… that’s better than kids being lost on their phones but you can see in all these behaviour how easy is for a parent to screw their kids’ head.

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      You are right to blame the adults. The kids will follow. Books or screen, a life changing decision often made with little thought as to the downstream pressure. Kids now are so coddled, which might be a good thing in some ways, but I count my blessings everyday that I wasn’t brought up with a screen in my hand.

  3. Next time I need to tell someone what I really think I’m just going to send them a link to this post.

    So, thanks, you really saved me some time, cause I’m so busy these days. Good thing I’ve got my pocket computer to keep me on track.


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      Saw behind four 60-year-old guys at baseball game last night. They missed two homers by Pujols, one by Trout and a grand slam all because they were updating their FB pages the entire four hour game. Including shooting nearly nonstop video. Not to mention all the family around us getting berated by security for trying to get selfies with the players. I felt like going Kazinsky and getting a cabin in the hills away from the stupidity of this movement.

  4. This is a really great post and so true.

    I’m particularly weary of this as we have two small kids (7 and 3) and we do our best to restrict the use of any screen time. Admittedly small tablets came in handy when we were 4hrs delayed on a recent flight but there is a time and a place. I think these days that we don’t let ourselves get ‘bored’ enough. I’ve often overheard conversations when kids have said to parents “I’m bored, I’ve got nothing to do” and instead of letting them sit it out and let their mind’s creative juices start flowing the parents put on the TV for them. Yet give them some pens and let them sit and they will start drawing, completely forgetting about the screen.

    Talking of pet peeves, I have two which kind of relates to this topic….first, when trying to take a photo of someone with a camera you can see their eyes look elsewhere and when you turn around you see others trying to get the same shot via a smartphone behind you. People seem to be drawn to a phone first these days. Second, when showing someone a photo you recently took on a monitor they say “I really like that” and then proceed to take a photo of your monitor screen and before you know it, it’s been shared via social media to a friend.

    Ps. I am working on some more book tests and they will be done soon, promise! 🙂

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      You hit on a really interesting topic. Boredom. When you give a kid something that dumps so much dopamine in their bodies, all day, everyday, or every night before bed, it’s no wonder the real world doesn’t live up. I’m not saying YOU do this but you know what I mean. How do you go from something that so overstimulates your mind and body to something that requires real, actual engagement? Not easy.

  5. Dan – You hit so many nails on the head there…
    I’ve become a bit self-conscious about mentioning these things, as I figure most folks just see me as a cranky luddite with an old film camera who doesn’t even own a smart phone. Hell, my flip-phone only sees the light of day a few times a week. My job is in Network IT services, but I am lucky to be able to disconnect my personal life as much as possible. I do notice that I’m usually the only one in the coffee shop reading a real book.

    My favorite scene from the recent remake of Secret Life of Walter Mitty is the one where Sean Penn’s character has been waiting for days to get a shot of the elusive Himalayan Snow Leopard. It finally appears but he doesn’t take one photo, instead preferring to just watch it, and appreciate the moment.

  6. This is probably my favorite post of your’s. So relevant and spot on. Have you read Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work? I think you might like it.

  7. Daniel,
    We’re screwed. I was at a restaurant and saw a mom holding a phone inches away from her newborn baby’s face (the baby was likely around 9 months old) in the high chair playing youtube cartoons. She used her other arm to eat and talked to her friends for most of dinner. Parent hardly interacted with baby.

    Aldous Huxley was right. Don’t underestimate man’s infinite appetite for distraction.

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