Back to school edition

(September 2nd, 2017)

It’s that time of year again when students, teachers, professors, and the related faculty of workers are returning to school again at the elementary, secondary, and collegiate levels. The day after this labor day holiday here in the States, many young and old wild glowing eyes will awaken with excitement, dread, uncertainty, and a thousand other emotions about what this coming year means to them. A few weeks back, CrimethInc. published a topical text about the anarchist relationship to school. It covered the efforts of a small group of anarchists to use collegiate level student funding to maintain an anarchist group at their university. These kind of creative projects that spring out of the depths of institutions and environments often at odds with the anarchist idea, inspire us to take a closer look at those involved. Those coming back from vacation, “the place where only dreams can be realized”, are witness to the energizing and turbulent situations of Charlottsville and Hurricane Harvey, to name just a few world-changers currently unfolding in the American landscape.

The University and school are often fleeting events in the lives of the student, whirlwinds of those working in such places, and a constant in the life of the townies just watching everything pass by. I fondly remember my first introduction to anarchism being around the age of 15 and finding an anarchist magazine and quickly trying to absorb and make sense of these particular ideas. Stumbling upon those anarchist ideas and friends at a young age completely changed my life and future relationships, and more than 15 years later here I am remembering some of the life inside the institutions of school as someone from Generation Y (or millennial from the early 1980s into the mid 90s and early 2000s).

I can fondly remember being a student in secondary school and absolutely despising almost everything about such a life, except for the friends and relationships made. Funny enough, here I am thinking about the younger generation. I heard a podcast the other day about the new so-called “I-Generation” (I-Gen) or roughly adolescents born between 1995 and 2012, or the first generation to spend their entire youth with a smartphone. Some of these same data has previously been covered here and related anarchist podcasts, but it’s worth noting. According to the data, some scholars have determined that the I-Gen is having less sexual activity, less binge drinking, and physical fights have decreased. So basically they’re having less fun? These same data sets also said that the I-Gen is more depressed, lonelier, less rebellious, and at greater risk for suicide and self-harm. Teens are spending less time with their friends in real life and tend to spend their leisure time in fundamentally different ways than before.

Accordingly, social media and cell phones seem to be one of the issues related, be it causally or correlated, and a reflection of a much deeper problem. The podcast goes on to say that many in I-Gen spend a great deal of the day enveloped on a screen with limited face-to-face interactions, while these face-to-face interactions that are missing are often linked to a better mental health; sound familiar? As Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple put it recently, “sometimes the very technology that is meant to connect us, divides us.”

On the other side of things, the I-Generation tends to be less religious, less spiritual, and less likely to believe in a god or gods. On the political spectrum and possibly most interesting for anarchists is that I-Gens tend to be more politically independent, have no party affiliation, an individualistic approach to culture with a focus on the self, and appear to be very liberal on social issues, yet more conservative in other areas like gun control. At base they are libertarians. However, according to the data with this political approach comes a stronger work ethic than previous generations (possibly out of fear and vulnerability) with a lack of taking action towards their beliefs, related perhaps to their low level of optimism. Damn… kids these days.

So basically smartphones have ruined a generation of youth, and it was not everything else, like student loan debt and the changing job market? Whatever it is, I-Gen has become known as a generation of thinking without consequences, people thinking more along computational lines, and the rise of artificial intelligence. We are looking at the effects of technology on a child's brain development, the dopamine levels, the screens everywhere one looks, and often the resulting deprivation and lack of sleep. I-Generation is being characterized as more vulnerable, having a stronger desire for validation and need for instantaneous feedback via the ubiquitous social media and connected apparatuses.

While data is just data and the question of such overarching generalities (plz don’t generalize), it does hold up with some personal experience. The idea inside and outside of many education circles today is that technology can save us, these unknown places to go; and here we see data sets about what is going on with the youth today. Science and the race of the State to be all: certainly a dark, but intriguing thought experiment.

Back to school, work, play, whatever it is you’re doing. One can find inspiration in encountering anarchist ideas and practice in the unknown places of everyday life outside of the weeknight / weekend / vacation. Outside of that and everything else, to a time of everything - “maybe what's happening is that we're all becoming children again. Our rigid roles and characters are dropping off like dried skin. We're fascinating to each other because each one of our acts might be a total surprise, at any instant our personalities might change completely. Like children, we're not exhausted by what we've been and are; life is ahead of us; we're no longer dead.”

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