How a Tree is an Essential Metaphor of Culture for Teenagers to Contemplate
How is technology changing the way we make sense of our place, of our culture and of understanding ourselves?
…Just as we’re losing diversity of plant and animal species due to the environmental crisis, so too are we losing the diversity and range of our minds due to changes in our cognitive environment. Preface to The Stars in Our Pockets by Howard Alexrod
Culture is everywhere, that is the first fact. Human beings are bound by culture which can be described as the ordinary processes by which a given society observes, trains, tests and finds meanings to its true purposes.
Every culture is in active development through contact, experience, education, discovery and active debate or communication.
Culture can also be segmented for closer interpretation. It creates SOCIAL MORES which are the codes of behavior that are important to establish manners, customs and habits and add moral significance. SOCIAL NORMS or conventions are created by like-minded people to participate in groups.
Culture can create MEMES which are ideas, symbols, behaviors, styles or even phenomena that can spread from person to person becoming self-redirecting and even mutating through selective pressures.
Who would disagree that our modern-day technology has drastically changed our culture in its directions, observations and meanings? Every adult, teenager and child are facing changes. Old rules for many are deleted; new rules by a few are imposed and spread on viral streaming.
Who is concerned about the obvious pressures of social media disproportionately affect teenagers, especially girls? Where did this subculture come from to be perfect with a perfect body, to act perfectly to have the perfect group of friends? If you miss the perfection standard, then you face depression, self-loathing and bullying; sadly, not in only your own room but on worldwide media exposure.
So, let’s imagine in a creative sense, that our culture can be symbolized by a magnificent tree deeply rooted with a sturdy trunk of common values and a crown displaying branches of society’s rules. Our ideas, words and images shine and shimmer as silvery leaves as we experience changes through the seasons. How horrible it would be if the beautiful sentient leaves of a vital tree can now be displaced by the grinning blank Selfie screens.
First, look at the deep roots of traditional culture…the tap root is your parents; the lateral roots are your siblings. They encompass our youthful rituals we hold dear; family, community, religion, education, celebration of holidays, birthdays, honoring weddings and funerals. Throughout our heritage, these social rites of passage are used by societies to mark the passage or transition of a young person’s social status from dependence to independence from home.
Second, let’s say the trunk embodies the traditional values such as honesty, responsibility, discipline, equality, gratitude, respect and the Golden Rule. The thick bark protects the historical significance of a civilized society protecting these values.
Third, the branches diverge into a cumulative crown showing the parameters of a well-functioning society including an economy, legalities and politics; science and knowledge; education, technology and progress; environment and co-existence; arts, literature and music; as well as personal relevance and wisdom with fairness and ethics … all culminating to be a responsible citizen of the world.
But look, there is a different device standing by today’s tree. Plugged into the trunk is a large cellphone with visible textural weaving from the trunk up into the branches.
A smiling selfie with spaghetti straps is busy texting some kind of momentary impulse. This insta-image tries to reinforce itself, reflecting various pouts, poses, postures and outfits using filters to fit in. It wants a heady transpiration of likes, follows and re-posts from random other impulses and eager egos.
Looking up at the crown, the glow of the internet permeates the atmosphere like an amusement park. Various social media branches, some huge, some just new twigs show their interfaces. Here and there are seen an assortment of pop stars, reality TV stars and more professional narcissists with webs of influence capturing these aspiring selfies to be juvenile narcissists, too. Tweets fill the air; hashtags hang like a cloud of spiders on their spinnerets. Novelties inspire excitement.
A kind of cultural appropriation is taking place where the poor and underprivileged are made to feel attuned to the rich and famous by buying into their lifestyles which are not their own, fading away with feelings of inequality, oppression and depression.
But what exactly are we creating with this unprecedented cultural paradigm trying to find our self-identity in virtual space? What are these new prevailing winds circulating around the social media circus that can incite so much addiction and manipulative behavior based on several false cultural values?
Happiness is based on status symbols minus the price tag. Instant gratification, even in filtered states, dominates the sheer ego without effort. Literacy is not reading and writing but viral images and confetti thoughts abound, many without civility. Attention span and engagement are trivial; there is no reflection or deliberation. Thinking is about comparing each other, skimming and scanning instant platitudes looking for mob crowd applause, the more offensive, the more shareable. It is also stated that even parental competition helps to promotes prices and trends for their stylish teens.
Think about this Selfie tool, not with the force of an ax, but with the endless intonation to engage or disengage with a new reality that advertises, full of seductive resources with glitters and sweet appetites. Innocent young brains like attention but have no life experiences to predict adult dilemmas.
Try and smell the air. Can you sense a worthwhile contribution to store as human knowledge or anything philosophical? Or is there a feeling of wasted potential and opportunities mitigated by overt public interests in private data collection of details? Are we pawns helplessly creating new social norms? Is traditional culture dying a slow death eroded by one painful tweet by one painful tweet?
My concern again focuses on how we protect our young people from radical memes and habits when they do not even know a world where social media doesn’t exist. How do you manage your ideas or opinions where character is dictated by false role models? Who will pass the torch to adolescents so that their characters don’t become causalities but assets to their culture?
Perhaps, drawing a personal tree metaphor can help to show the Big Picture of Culture and its essential parts, advantages, disadvantages, individual choices, and society’s decision-making in the circumnavigation of this virtual world.
Start with a simple line diagram with given labels: family, traditions, values, Education, Science, Environment, Economy, Arts and Music, Social Media and I (myself) at the top as a culmination of your place in your total culture. Now you can fill in more details that matter to you. Of course, use your cellphone to explore facts and thoughts as a far greater asset beyond any Selfie postings.
The bottom line is our internet technology with a click in your hands can open the great expanse of the world and its knowledge base and that is earth-shattering to contemplate. It’s important to use the internet beyond just transmission of information, efficiency, business marketing or selfish, objective pursuits but it must also encourage the open-ended humanity’s exploration to become more interconnected with common values. Our teenagers’ futures deserve more; our culture deserves better.
Hopefully, a personal tree metaphor can help teenagers to focus beyond Social Media and its harvest of Selfies to an overview of cultural moralities and expectations and everyone’s responsibility to connect to a bigger picture to create the best culture in the best traditions for everybody even worldwide.
Comments and questions are always welcome about how to maintain our stability and sanity in this Internet Transmogrification!
Excerpt: Teen Girl Faces Time in the Sand
Today the real tragedy with young people is how to overcome the huge problems created by a Giant Media Monster; like a Medusa manipulator using her vast army of words and images to twist, to seduce and undermine the ability of people to think critically and freely. It’s like a vast army of fake selfies attacking what’s good and normal.
The great personal tragedy is made worse because most young people do not use their real characters to take offensive action but rather create their own fake Selfies to closely reflect what the Media Monster promotes. These are soldiers on the same side with the same goals which means the Monster wins every time. Like I said before, the Monster has no regret for what it is doing; it will never apologize if you keep liking her artificial ugliness again and again.