1890’s. Bicycles were proclaimed morally hazardous.
2017. Here we are, looking at our tween daughter, forecasting what changes will come and what need be made before her entry into middle school this fall. More specifically, we are preparing to have “the talk” with her. Not the sex talk – that’s old news – you practically have to start that conversation when kids enter kindergarten now. But “the talk” our tween has been waiting for, and which we are dreading, is “the cell phone talk.” She’s going to need a cell phone soon. To her, it’s hip and cool and freedom and awesomeness and emojis and music. To us, it’s information and texting and connection and imminent cyberbullying and potential pornography and tween heartache and and and…Will we be handing our baby girl the world, or a ticking time bomb? “The cell phone talk” will include how to have a healthy relationship with her phone, how much data and texting she is allotted, safety and antitheft, social phone etiquette, approved apps/banned apps, and so on. There will be much to talk about, of course, because we will be giving her a 6oz rectangle of endless possibilities and connectivity to use at her parentally monitored and guided discretion 🙂
Then I start reading this great book. “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough. I’m loving this book. The honor, integrity and vision with which the brothers worked together to achieve the impossible in the early 1900’s is enchanting. Before planes came bicycles. They sold them and fixed them, then they made them. Wilbur and Orville. The most honest sounding names for truly stalwart examples during a purer and cleaner time of human history. At the turn of that bygone century, homes and individuals, not in totality, but in vast abundance relative to today’s society, strove to live upstanding, moral and principled lives. Moral concerns were relegated to the misuse of petty, vulgar words and women showing their ankles. The seven deadly sins were still sins and moral war was against the sin, not against those who called sin a sin. I could digress right here, but let’s go back to bicycles for now. With the invention of the safety bicycle in the 1890’s came applause from physicians for the health benefits. Also came sincere moral concern for the new freedom this two wheel transporter gave to impressionable youth. In this context, the following excerpt from McCullough is fascinating:
Voices were raised in protest. Bicycles were proclaimed morally hazardous. Until now children and youth were unable to stray very far from home on foot. Now, one magazine warned, fifteen minutes could put them miles away. Because of bicycles, it was said, young people were not spending the time they should with books, and more seriously that suburban and country tours on bicycles were “not infrequently accompanied by seductions.”
And I’m about to hand my daughter a cell phone.
I know voices have been raised in protest for cell phones as loudly as they were for bicycles. I will not add my voice in protest. Just concern. What are we doing? Or rather, what have we done? I mean, we’re already here. Phones are an integral part of our lives from younger and younger ages. I don’t wish or intend to turn back time to dissolve this most miraculous of human technological inventions. Just as there is endless evil in our devices, there is endless greatness in that we have the accumulation of all of human knowledge just a click away. And yet it is harder than ever to be morally responsible and principled on these devices when so much of our societal immorality is digitally captured and silently, virally, spread to the palms of our hands. If bicycles were once a worry to parents for fear that children could travel outside the safety of their neighborhood so fast, how then are cell phones ever not to be a worry for parents that fear their children’s minds could travel outside the safety of their home and into the world wide web in a click?
Parental filters, guidelines and rules are a must. I know. And we are going to implement A LOT of those. However, even if our kid isn’t messing around with weird stuff on their own phone, peers are going to show them what they have discovered on theirs. I may not be as smart as these smart phones, but I can at least prepare our family to defend our morals from technological degradation. I picture it as a great game we will play. My husband and I will be the sideline coaches. Our first strategy is to start training our defensive line. The defense (our kids) will run drills and be prepared to turn off a screen the moment something inappropriate is seen, because it will be. The defense will expect dislikes and hurtful comments and muscle up to stand firm and strong regardless of the pain. The defense will block and tackle to defend the moral ground they hold sacred. When the opposition finds a hole in our defensive line, the defense will simply huddle with the coaches and create a new play.
I have to stop there – mostly because my football jargon is limited – but also because this is an ever evolving game we all play. Every day a new app, a new device, a new site, a new “friend” comes onto the screen and can change everything we had planned. Such is the beauty and deception of living in this most incredible age of technology and information.
Now herein lies my current quandary: Can I guide my children to utilize the good that a device in their hand has to offer them while also guarding them against the bad it could create? And the answer is, yes, I can guide them, and no, I cannot guard them. Why? Because: Agency.
In the early 20th century, bicycles gave agency to children that many parent’s weren’t quite ready to relinquish. Now, in the early 21st century, personal devices give agency to children (and let’s be honest, adults as well!) that we simply aren’t ready for.
Advancement is a fickle friend. We love to experience what is new, but we may not always be ready for all that a new invention has to offer. At first, a new invention may truly be morally hazardous. But if we take to the wheels of that invention and are conscious about our agency to use it for good or evil, then these advances can indeed take us on journey’s to far away lands that we never dreamed we could visit.
Bicycles took us there.
Devices take us there.
Conscious, deliberate, morally executed agency can safeguard us from imminent hazards.
And conscious, deliberate, morally executed agency can lead us ever onward…even on towards the next great invention, be it on wheels, in our palms, or in an as yet unexplored dimension.
So bring on the new advancements. Call them what you may. Applaud them or fear them. But as for me and my house, we will engage our intrinsic moral agency to use the great inventions of today and tomorrow to our benefit and the beautification of life around us.