Call for action – children’s conference at TED
Recently I wrote “If I allow myself to dream — and in that dream I find my self on the TED stage making a wish ;-) – I would be calling for a global forum where the topics of self and identity, the impact of the emotions to human behavior, the question how personality is shaped from childhood to adulthood, and many related questions [involving children] are discussed.” With this post, I’d like to turn my words into action and try to use one of my favorite platforms for sharing (and acting on) ideas, TED, to call for such a forum to be organized!
When I was growing up in Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia I often heard the phrase “The future belongs to our children!” As I was growing up, things have rapidly changed around me — the communist regime was crumbling around Easter Europe and even “moderate” socialist countries like Yugoslavia fell apart into little states striving for independence and recognition in the world.
Now, politics never interested me — especially as a kid ;-) — but I couldn’t avoid to notice that the promise stated by that sentence I heard so many times before, somehow started to fade. In the backdrop of civil unrest, increased poverty, fights for power, etc., somehow the idea that the future will belong to my generation, and the dream with it that such future will be bright and happy seemed far-fetched.
Fast forward twenty years or so, it feels like the days when I was a kid were in a different era. The world has drastically changed as my generation was trying to navigate the unknown future that awaited all of us since the maps all around Eastern Europe got redrawn. Life had ups and downs, but hard work helped many of my generation build a relatively good future for themselves and their families — in or out of their homeland. However, something important was missing for my generation in this period.
While my generation was embarking into the brave new world of “democracy”, rapid technology advancement, globalization, etc. the generation that crashed the doors to enter that world was lacking direction to help us steer into the future that supposedly belonged to us. It felt like the rug was pulled under the feet of my parents’ generation and they were forced out of the previous equilibrium and into a game of survival. This rendered the society I grew up in incapable of helping my generation preparing for the new future.
I write this because I believe that what was happening in Eastern Europe in the past 20 years is happening on a global scale in the world. While we, the current generation somehow learned how to cope with a global world, shifting markets, etc. the future we’re trying to build for our kids is facing new challenges and we’re risking finding ourselves in the same shoes my parents’ generation faced with the death of the communist regime in Eastern Europe.
I don’t intend to elaborate on the challenges our kids are expected to face in the future — we’re all too aware of global warming, overpopulation, resource overuse, biodiversity loss, etc. Instead, I want to call for action to avoid the same mistakes my parents’ generation made 20 years ago!
Just like then, the rug has been pulled under our feet this time and we’re risking to enter a whirlwind of endless discussions, indecisiveness, attempts to monetize from the situation, and simply making a mistake after a mistake in an attempt to stop the ground from shaking under our feet. While that is happening, our children’s generation will be forced to move on, just like mine did 20 years ago, and figure out for themselves how to build a future in which they can have a reasonable life.
I think we can be smarter than our parents because of several reasons!
We live in an age of unprecedented ability to bring people across the world to communicate and solve problems of global scale. In my own work in software development I had a chance to taste how this collaboration looks like — aside from the fact that I was up with a Blackberry in my hands calling or emailing people across the globe at almost every hour of the day or night ;-) I was also able to see how creativity gets a boost when many minds across the world are put together to resolve a difficult problem!
We have seen enormous technical and technological advances and we are able to employ the technology to help us solve some of the problems endangering the future of our kids. I am excited to live in an age in which we are so close to understand life, the universe, etc. and use that knowledge to build sustainable processes to support the humanity on this planet or even move beyond and inhabit other places beyond Earth!
But most of all, we grew up as a generation to be able to discuss and collaborate with our fellows across many of the barriers that existed in previous generations — racial, sexual, cultural, etc. If I lived in the same time with Turing, Martin Luther King, etc. I would’ve been scared to death about the future, but today I am excited I can engage with anyone who is motivated to put their energy in shaping that future!
Now, there are some caveats to consider if we’re serious to embark on building a future for our kids instead of maintaining a today for us.
First of all, as we all know, the problems we face today require global collaboration. Unfortunately, we’ve come a little way to understand what makes cultures tick, how they’re formed and what makes them so salient that even today, after breaking many barriers that prevented communication in the past, people would still make decisions that fly in the face of any common sense or even put in danger human beings. Given that kids form mini-cultures as they grow up and interact with the groups they identify with, I think studying those mini cultures will go a long way in understanding not only cultures in general, but bring us closer in understanding how the mind works, what can cause bad behavior in certain people, how to help kids avoid such behavior, etc.
The next problem preventing us from effectively engaging with the new generation in fixing the problems endangering their future is that of education. As Sir Ken Robinson, along with many others have been repeatedly pointing out, the current education system was drawn up in the industrialization era and has rigidly served the purpose to educate the next generation of workers to enter the industrial system. It is a system in which creativity is not fostered and standardized knowledge is most prized. Already in today’s world where computer and communications technology is ever more pervasive the education system has become broken, while in the future in which innovative and creative thinking will be required to solve the global problems we’re already dealing with, the education system will become a liability!
Thirdly, even though we’re talking about a globally connected world, the fact is that a big number of the population is excluded from that picture as they live in poverty, with no access to clean drinking water and limited access to food! Beside being our moral obligation to help them, there’s a great potential in that population as a great number of them are children, which with proper education and access to the same technical and similar resources as the rest of us have can unlock a great new creative power — and innovative and creative minds will be the most wanted currency for the future!
I am sure there are many more problems that we need to understand and solve to secure a bright future that will belong to our kids, which is why I think a public and open forum to focus on those problems is what is needed! And we don’t need just any forum, but we need one that is already proven as a platform that can tap into an existing community to bring as many minds together as possible to discuss ideas and act on the best ones!
I think TED is just such a forum — much more than a forum, indeed — it is an open platform for sharing ideas, collaboration across the world, local community engagement and action!
I was motivated to write this article and put energy into engaging in bringing TED to consider supporting a new conference dedicated to the future of our children by the launch of TEDWomen during the 2010 TED Global in Oxford, held in Oxford in July. In the spirit of TEDWomen, I would like to call for action to organize a TEDChildren conference in which experts from many areas should be brought together along with kids from different places in the world and engage in discussion to understand the caveats I mentioned above and think of ideas to implement in securing a bright future for these kids.
Being a fan of platforms, I decided to also use Twitter as a way to bring attention to my call, so I created a @TEDChildren account, which I hope can attract enough followers and immediately start a discussion with the community in how to engage our children together with us in brightening back their future! If TEDChidren becomes reality, I hope @TEDChildren will continue to live on under the TED umbrella as a forum for further discussion and action! If you want to help, please connect to @TEDChildren and start tweeting about it! ;-)
Why exactly TEDChildren? Because I think it is time we engage our kids into the discussion and make them part of the action. I believe that is the only way to secure a bright future for them! We, the current generation of adults, are still suffering from the legacy of the past, including our sense of group identity with the country or nationality we belong to, our fear that fixing the future would require letting go of our life comfort, our inertness in changing the systems that worked for us in the past, etc. I believe that bringing kids into the discussion will have a surrendering effect on some of those fears and unlock objective thoughts and ideas that may ( just may!) save the world for our children!