Saturday, March 26, 2005

Learning the Pursuit of Happiness

I've been pouring my limited blogging energy into two of my other online projects over the last couple of months -- a community blogging experiment, and an exploration of ideas for my masters thesis. The title of this post popped into my head as a possible unifying concept for my thesis. Each of the key words is loaded with meaning, and the intersection between them is where my interests lie. Some questions that are demanding answers right now:

  • How are kids currently learning about which possibilities for their future are likely to make them happy?
  • Is this learning effectively helping them make good decisions? Do they have the information and skills?
  • How might these skills and information be learned better? Technology, social software, planning portfolios, mentoring, overhauling career development and guidance programs, etc?
  • How could a more holistic focus on lifestylism (or entire future lifestyles, as opposed to just family or career goals in isolation) help us make better decisions?
  • How would rich visualization, simulation and reflection help kids understand the implications and interdependencies of their future choices? How might the concept of "possible selves" be applied in a meaningful way?
  • What differences exist in how kids from different socioeconomic backgrounds learn about their future options (career, education, lifestyle)?

  • How are young people currently setting goals or directions for their futures? What are the ecological and social consequences of an entire generation of people pursuing those goals? Are they sustainable goals for individuals and society?
  • Are the goals or directions generally meaningful, realistic, and aligned with their personal values? Are they pursuing what they actually care about? Do they know how to identify and take the best steps to achieving those goals?
  • How could the process of helping kids set and achieve lifestyle goals be improved so that they'd have better tools and motivation to succeed by their own measures of success?
  • How does fear motivate and paralyze young people when they think about their future options?
  • How much of the goals and dreams of young people are borrowed or absorbed from society and the American Dream as opposed to being authentic and personal?
  • Do young people believe that they can create their own futures, or that they must choose from existing options? How much desire is there to create future ways of living that are more satisfying and sustainable?
  • How are differences in socioeconomic status manifested in the types of lifestyles kids pursue? How could those differences be minimized? Is class mobility a myth?

  • How likely are the most common or popular goals to make young people happy, both in the process of pursuing them and in their attainment? How happy is the American Dream making adults right now?
  • How might lifestylism as an orientation or approach to the future help us better enjoy the journey and the destination?
  • How could people better understand the connections between their personal happiness and the collective or common good of their communities and planet?
  • How do kids define and pursue happiness in the present? What needs and wants do they believe will make them happy in their futures?
  • What do young people believe about the relationships between work and happiness? Is work mostly viewed as the means for generating income to fuel consumption (which should equal happiness)? How well is this model working now? What should replace it if it's not making most people happy?
As I said in a previous post about my thesis topic, it's not a problem of not being interested in enough things -- it's a matter of organizing these questions into some kind of coherent approach or conceptual model. I'm glad I took a few months off from my program to ponder some of this stuff, because I feel like I'm at least identifying the questions I care about. The comments to my last thesis post were extremely helpful, even the abusive ones. Please feel free to comment on the questions I've included here -- even though I'm mostly just thinking out loud, it's great to have others bounce off of them as well. Which ones are most interesting to you (they're all interesting to me)? Which might be combined or expanded to yield the most interesting exploration?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Missing Skills

To the High-Tech Employers: Sorry About Those Missing Skills
A quote to give you the flavour:
"You see, in the big rush to bring accountability to schools and to make them performance-based you who supported those measures--largely from the business community I might add--failed to account for all the things that would have to go. 'Elective' classes--where you might see your future workers doing digital design work, doing animations and video, learning programming fundamentals, and all the other things that we used to be able to do with our kids--well, we had to cut all those way back. Sorry. You said that standards were what was important."
I thought Stephen's comment was spot-on, too:
"I am in agreement with the sentiments in this post and echo the author's request of the high-tech community looking for innovative and creative workers that it stop with the 'back to basics' and 'standardized' test regime that makes fulfilling that request impossible. Creativity requires, above all, freedom."

Friday, March 18, 2005

March Hodgepodge

As my recently pared-down Bloglines account fills up with great stuff and I don't have time (or haven't made time) to properly process it, I'm left with skimming and linking with no real reflection. The first three are loosely related to Bill Gates' call for school reform a couple of weeks ago, and the rest is a hodgepodge of gems:

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

100 Bloggers Article

I'm involved in a book project called 100 Bloggers, along with a few blogging friends who were kind enough to invite me. I can't say I'm thrilled with my just-under-the-wire contribution, but I welcome any feedback. Here are my group's contributions so far:

Bloggers as Lifestyle Designers

Blogs interest me most when people are using them to design better lives for themselves. I’m not talking about blogs that are focused specifically on self-improvement or even posts that explicitly outline someone’s future plans or desires. Aspiration is more of an undercurrent in the process of most good blogging, rather than something you can point to on any individual site.

A great blog reads like an artifact of a quest. The best ones aren’t broadcasting in search of an audience -- they’re seeking out information and people that interest them. Blogging is all about collecting and reflecting on information, which often facilitates connections and collaboration with people online. As we make meaningful connections between information and people, we are implicitly creating possible futures for ourselves.

Collecting Interesting People (and Information)
Outsiders mostly see news and opinions being linked and quoted on blogs, as if the main point was to augment our poor memories. Collecting information is only a starting point. Blogging is also about collecting interesting people. A shared interest in a topic may lead us to someone who exposes us to valued ideas and experiences we wouldn’t have pursued alone.

It’s not hard to find information on nearly any topic, but when you find a person whose voice really resonates with you, it’s an opening into real learning – learning about how someone experiences their life and thinks about the world. Even small glimpses into the stories, hopes and ideas of the voices we grow to trust give us a deeper and richer pool of experience to draw on when we make the decisions that construct our own lives.

This lens into a lifestyle does not feel superficial to me. You can walk around your neighborhood to get some clues about how your neighbors live. At worst, this exercise arouses empty consumer desire if they have houses or vehicles you think you want, but you’d never know if their lifestyle choices were making them happy. When you regularly read a person’s writing over a period of time, you get a sense of how well the different parts of their life fit together. They’re also collecting the stories, experiences and ideas from the people they find interesting, which give you access to more potential models for how people style their lives.

Who Are We Becoming?
Bloggers are always asking themselves how new information or experiences fit into their own perspectives. This on-the-fly reflection isn’t as fascinating to me as the types facilitated by collecting your thoughts over time. Many of us feel like we’d follow our bliss or passion if only we could figure out what it was. Looking back over my writing from the past year helps reveal patterns in my own interests. After some time blogging, I’m finding that I’ve created a fairly rich historical record of my lifestyle. Reflecting on the patterns that emerge from this archive leads to the inevitable question of identity: “Who am I?”

I know that nobody cares what I ate for breakfast or about any of the details from my life. But all of those irrelevant little pieces of personal history merge with ideas and connections to create a sort of composite view of the things that matter to me. It’s a record of process, showing both progression and blunders. Over time, the record shows how I spend my time, energy and money – my lifestyle choices and identity. It becomes easier to see where my choices reflect what I really value, and exposes unpleasant gaps where they don’t.

This gap analysis shows the limitations of fixating on who I am – it’s only a first step in using reflection to understand the progression of identity. The next step is look for indications of who I am becoming and determine who I really want to be. This vector into the future creates an opportunity to design a style of living that is aligned with my values. In order to do that, I’ll need good models, support, and a fair bit of learning. If you’re still with me, you’ve probably already realized that the process of blogging helps achieve these goals, even if they’re mostly subconscious.

Connections That Matter
The type of personal reflection I’ve outlined above could also be done quite nicely with a paper diary, but you’d miss the opportunity to have your ideas influenced, supported and critiqued by other people who care enough about you or your shared interest to comment on them over time. As we reflect on what we learn through our blogs, that network of interested people becomes more valuable in shaping our emerging voices.

When I talked earlier about collecting interesting people, I was referring to the kinds of passive connections that often start by regularly reading someone’s blog. Their stories and experiences might help shape our perspectives and values, which provides the foundation for trust and closer contact. The connection might progress to linking, comments, e-mails between writers and other contact. We get more and more interested, or the connection lapses as we focus on others.

These connections help shape who we are becoming. At the most basic level, we bounce ideas around and reflect back what we’ve heard from each other. We share resources and connect each other to other people in our networks that we can learn with or from. We may offer friendship and support. Ideally, we invest in a shared future, collaborating on meaningful projects and really engaging in the process of creating the lives we want.