Wednesday, July 31, 2019

First Man...Not Man First

I recently went to see the movie First Man based on the lunar landing and astronaut Neil Armstrong. I invited my family and some friends to go with me. In the end, my mom and I went alone to see the film. What intrigued me more than the movie was the response one of my friends offered by way of declining. He wasn’t interested in the notion of space exploration and thought money had been wasted on the whole endeavor. I don’t agree, but I understand his point of view. It was a staggering budget. 

There are Benefits of the Space Race.
I was quick to point out that outcomes of conquering the final frontier continue to serve us today. After all, we have microwaves and computers because of the NASA challenge. Transistor radios (if you’re old enough to remember them) were a direct outgrowth of research in space technology. There are hundreds of products and conveniences we enjoy every day because of the science and technology poured into NASA.  

I also cited the urgency the Americans felt to conquer space and rule over it largely because  of what we knew as the Cold War. When Russia launched the satellite Sputnik only a dozen years after the end of WWII, the United States was…had to be…on guard. The perception was simply that whoever controlled space, controlled the world.

Enough History.
After we talked, I thought of lessons learned (and taught) about child development. Urie Bronfenbrenner who was, curiously enough, a Russian born American psychologist, studied children’s social and emotional development. His work makes sense to us. In essence Bronfenbrenner spoke of social systems that shape our development. Our parents and family provide those first constructs and then our world expands to include friends and school and church. As our world expands, we learn and grow. Our understanding of how the world works changes with our experiences. 

Where am I going with this?
World events occurring at significant points in our lives shape our thinking forever. For example, my parents were young during the Great Depression. But that historic time induced them to be ever conservative. My mom still says, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” It is in direct conflict with our current “everything is disposable or can be easily replaced” mindset. World War II also shaped my parents view of the political climate and how it influenced their lives and future. The fears of communism potentially leading to World War III helped fund the race for space. 

My generation was shaped by the Space Age. Nothing was beyond us. We could conquer anything. It is a spirit of both “American know-how” and adventure. We embraced the possibilities of technology. My husband and I had those transistor radios “glued to our ears.” My mother-in-law used to fuss at Tom to “put that thing away while we eat.” (Sound familiar?) 

For graduate school, Tom traded in his slide rule for a calculator. We didn’t have the more than a hundred dollars it cost, but his mother bought it for him as a college graduation present. Yes, I said more than one hundred dollars for an instrument that could perform fewer functions than one you can pick up for ten bucks at a back-to-school sale today. 

Tom and I were the first people in the neighborhood to buy a home computer. A Commodore 64. I still have it. We also were the first people in our group of friends and family to own a video camera. It isn’t that we were flashy or flush with money.  We were neither. We were children of the space age and we were intrigued with all the possibilities. Possibilities made available through the space program.

My children and ultimately my grandchildren’s lives are forever shaped by the events of 9/11. It is a social-historical event that reaches deep into our thinking and way of life. My grandchildren will never know what it’s like to arrive at the airport ten to fifteen minutes before a flight and race to grab the seat assigned. They are learning what I call “airport culture”:a new way of life that includes hours at the airport and careful planning to make the time advantageous. 

And now instead of time on the family computer, they are reaping the benefits of “individualized” technology. The readily available hand-held technological devices threaten to make them more isolated at the very point in history where they are learning, we hope, how to be more inclusive. 

I think it is the book of Ecclesiastes where King Solomon writes “there is nothing new under the sun.” (By the way, I think Ecclesiastes reads like a sleepless night.) So while I may fret over my grandchildren and long for them to know a quieter, slower paced life, I also look forward to the next adventure. No matter the outcome I pray it will be the one that defines them in a most positive way and always has them–looking up.

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