Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Neoteny and Wisdom

It seems we humans have been evolving quite rapidly over the last 50 years or so. We have been evolving in a way that prefers traits of youthfulness over decrepitude. These traits include big eyes  adaptable thinking, playfulness, and other juvenile features which explains love of anime characters,  pandas, sloths, kittens  and cute overload as well as explaining the longer time span adult children spend at home.

The phenomenon has lead to a study called neoteny which comes from the Greek neo meaning young and a German variant referring to tendency. People are living longer and the dilemma of facing a prolonged old age of senility is being rapidly evolved by middle life extension, before our eyes, as 20 somethings evolve into 30 somethings still involved in what seems to be frivolous play activities. Fur babies have satisfied the reproductive urges for young people as well as those who would have been anticipating grandparent hood. It seems everyone is in a holding phase as they try to work out whether the planet or world finances are going to implode. So it is a case of Keep Calm and Play. It also indicates supreme optimism that there will be enough time, a very typical juvenile trait.
It seems all the old paradigms are shifting including accepting rights of disabled people, rights for all to marry the ones they love, rights of animals not to be farmed for food or to be experimented on in cosmetic factories. So where do we point our collective fingers of disgust? Well if the world is changing to one of youthfulness then the aged and all those who show signs of ageing are going to be the new targets for discrimination.
Education is going to be a very important factor in this new world. At one end there will be fewer children spawned by very old zygotes, being cared for by ??? Hmm... decrepid old people who are even more divorced from modern technology and understanding of the modern world... or reluctant and middle aged parents who are paying IVF debts on top of HECS debts and mortgages in a world of spiralling costs and housing shortages.  Technology which is favoured now will age quickly and the bright young things at their zenith now will be flailing to re educate to keep up with the next bright stars. 
Edward de Bono suggested 30 years ago that a better education system than our current one would be to have it prolonged over a lifetime with breaks for work experience and skill development, returning to higher academic study in the late 20s and deeper intellectual study in mid life. This concept may need reviewing again (even though it was never implemented) as human intellectual capacity keeps growing just like data storage and faster computer speeds.
Being an artist is not just about filling in time and playing. It is about being aware of the changing times and seeing signs where no one else is looking. It is about being visionary and thinking outside the box. It is about self directed learning and enquiry. Art employs the imagination with a licence that no other practice has. It works perfectly with science to give both sides of the coin.   
It is important that no matter what age you are, if you wish to be relevant and share acquired wisdom to cope with an uncertain future, that you maintain connection to both ends of the age spectrum . If you don’t have a personal contact within every decade of the age spectrum, consider that maybe your life is not balanced, just as a diet can be unbalanced without certain nutritional food groups.
It is a delight to find yourself a young tutor no matter what age you are. Children born today are considered to be digital natives, in that the world they are born into is all digital, and they have an innate sense of digital media. But they cannot necessarily synthesise old understandings with new media and so their world is limited and dependant on older tutors who understand the past and the present. Their naivete is also charming and an inspiration for further imagining.
 Finding food, growing things, making things and understanding mechanical devices is further removed from these children than my generation is from the beginning of the industrial age. Show a child a video tape, a cassette tape, a vinyl record and they have no concept of what it is or how it works. Flour is white powder in a bag, but so is plaster, arsenic, and titanium oxide or cocaine and they have no means of understanding its origin or purpose just from observing it. Foundation skills are missing and as we travel into an uncertain future we need to hold hands across the generations and transmit the knowledge that might be necessary.

Don’t be a Luddite and give up on the digital age because it might be a very long future, from which you are excluded.  There has never been an era of more accessibility in learning with facilities like online tutorials and contributing to these has never been easier either (if you feel you have something to contribute) There are many companies waiting to make a mint out of your helplessness, and reluctance to move with technology, and once you give up one skill  and one right to know, they can move in like fog and separate you from your soul. And it can happen to you  at 20 if you don’t keep tabs on your rights and responsibilities as well.

One of the joys of being a grey haired lady of no definable age is that I have perfected the famous Harry Potter cloak of invisibility. I can lurk and eavesdrop and learn whatever I like and no one suspects. I am closer to both ends of the age spectrum than I will ever be again in my life and have communication skills to interact throughout the full range.
You can share your time equally between being teacher and student. You can also use invisibility to do the unexpected. Just as “Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition”, nobody suspects little grey haired ladies to be so full of surprises. Here are the contents of my handbag this week.
Note 8 Tablet, media stick, wind up LED torch, earphone, iphone, black sharpie and white permanent pencil for graffiti, mechanical pencil, Rock- it mobile amplifier, slingshot, reusable roll up shopping bag, mini microscope,crocheted grass basket project.


Anonymous said...

OK Why the slingshot Dangerous grey haired old lady

Anonymous said...

We can ignore wisdom at our peril but thankfully at the eleventh hour we are discovering the wisdom of the oldest people in Australia through ABC First Footprint program

jo quirk said...

Seed bombing? Paint bombing? Five cent flinger? Use your imagination-mine's busy.