Mindcraft

Kids say the darndest — and most damning — things.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Since we’d burned through the back catalog of Radiolab, 99 Percent Invisible and Memory Palace podcasts, we were looking for something new to listen to, as we wind down to go to sleep. Jenn found The Organist, a monthly arts and culture podcast put out by the folks at The Believer magazine. It’s a wonderful little show.

A recent episode featured an interview with Mike Mills. No, not that Mike Mills. The filmmaker who made the acclaimed 2005 film “Thumbsucker.” He was chatting about his new film, a documentary called “A Mind Forever Wandering Through Strange Seas of Thought Alone,” in which he asks kids, ages 8 to 11, about their thoughts on what the future will be like. The hook? These kids are all children of folks who work in Silicon Valley. You can watch the full film through a link and password until July 1. Give it a spin. It’s not long, and it’s fascinating. (Note: I had trouble with the link working in Chrome, but no problems through Internet Explorer.)

Anyway, given the demographics of the kids, you could say the deck was stacked.

In their eyes, farming by hand is dead. “People aren’t going to do that anymore.”

“There probably won’t be much nature around anymore.”

“There’ll still be trees, but the wildlife will almost vanish.”

“There probably won’t be much nature around anymore.”

These lines, uttered spontaneously by the voices of our future, were daggers to the hearts of a couple of homesteaders like us. And they may not have even been the most damning. There were children who thought future generations wouldn’t be able to write freehand letters since, “people don’t have to write.” There was an overwhelming consensus that people will be dumber about everything — except technology, where they will continue to excel.

The films title comes from “Prelude,” by Romantic poet William Wordsworth. Fittingly, the same poem inspired a piece of interactive fiction, a computer game, by Infocom in 1985.  In that game, the player inherits the persona of a sentient computer in the near future, in a country whose economy is failing and its young people are committing suicide by overstimulating their brains electronically. (It’s a masterpiece, and it’s officially under copyright, though out of print for decades. Its author, Steve Meretzky, offers a download link on his website, so I assume he’s not concerned about missing royalties on an otherwise unavailable piece of software.)

The kids Mills talks to? They seem happy enough, I guess. But there didn’t seem to be much true joy or hope in them, or even an understanding that they can kick against the pricks and work to shape both their future and the future of the planet. “Sometimes you have to accept what the future’s going to be like,” said one.

The film was presented without narrative, except that provided by Mills’s questions to the young’uns. And he didn’t appear to start with an agenda. But the dystopian thread joining all these young minds was sadly clear.

Also clear, at least to me, was the call to action for us grown-ups. We need to make sure the kids we come into contact with are getting time outside, getting their hands dirty in the soil, playing in a park, going to a market, eating something they pull out of the ground with their grubby little fingers, know how to use a hammer and screwdriver and aren’t afraid to look under the hood.

If we want a new generation not willing to accept the status quo, we need to instill in them the same love of the natural world that we feel, so maybe they won’t accept a future where there won’t be much nature around.

You must be logged in to post a comment