Hi, I'm Nick. This is my blog. I'm a life-long unschooler living in New York. You can find more about me here.

I help run the Recurse Center (YC'S10).

Follow me @nicholasbs

An open letter to my future self

March 06, 2010

It may already be too late. The rigidity of custom and the tyranny of experience may already make the point of this letter moot by the time you read it, but I write nonetheless in the hope that such is not the case, that your mind is still open to persuasive and something beyond self-serving rationalizations masquerading as unbiased reason.

Look around you. With each day, the new world progresses and those of the old world scream more about the base nature of the latest changes. How before -- it's never quite clear when this was, but assuredly not today -- Things Were Better. Television had a more wholesome approach, music was created by actual musicians and not greedy producers, shots in a movie lasted longer than 50 milliseconds, and everything wasn't commercialized. People had to communicate face-to-face, and they were patient enough to actually wait for things. Politicians had more of a sense of patriotism or honor or duty. Children obeyed their parents. Sex meant something.

Have I made my point? No? I'm talking about the perpetual love affair with the great past that so many people have. I used to just think that it was a personality thing; that there were some accustomed to dynamism who welcomed change with open arms, and that there were others forever wed to the status quo. And while I still believe that appreciation for change is a characteristic unevenly distributed across the population, I no longer think it's something we typically hold onto as we age. Its natural course is to be diminished in the aged, regardless of philosophy or politics.

Let me be blunt: With every passing day beyond some point in adolescence, humans tend to become less open to change. We are still, on the whole, comfortable with whatever changes that took place while we were coming of age. But the next round, the ones welcomed by those even just five years our junior, we greet with indifference, skepticism or outright hostility.

Why? I don't know. I have some hypotheses, united by their common lack of evidence, the most obvious of which I will here assert for lack of a realistic alternative. It may prove to have an evolutionary advantage to wish to keep the world as it was when we originally ascended into adulthood, for our skills will be best developed for the technologies of that time; our vocabulary most tuned to that day's vernacular; our worldly conceptions formed by that period's prevailing events and beliefs.

But none of the above justifies stemming the tide of progress. An affinity for traditional sex-based divisions of labor does not make denying women's entry into the workforce acceptable. Comfort with segregated schools doesn't legitimize their continued existence. And being accustomed to traditional conceptions of marriage is a vestige of the past, not a basis for denying gay people equal rights.

But, you are almost certainly thinking to yourself, surely there is a large difference between desegregation and the crass nature of today's television, right? And of course you are correct: Obviously not all change can be legitimately called social progress, and not all progressions are of equal importance. There are in fact immense differences. But the groundwork for the most significant social progress is laid gradually over time, much of it by supposedly "crass" cultural artifacts. When The Simpsons first hit the airwaves in the early nineties, many predicted the downfall of Western civilization. Twenty years later, the show has proven to be a groundbreaking and important piece of American culture. The fringe has a tendency to become the mainstream which with time can become venerated. Think jazz or rock music.

So why am I writing this letter? To encourage you -- no, to implore you -- to fight the all too natural tendency to become obstinate and stuck in your ways and to dismiss the culture and values of the day in favor of those nurtured in your youth. What terrifies me is that no amount of rational persuasion will be enough to convince you, my future self, to buck the trend and remain a friend of modernity. But I have never subscribed to the idea that we are not ultimately in control of our own fates, and thus still hold out hope that somehow, in at least some small way, this letter will have an effect, and that it will help you live a long life, waking each day with eyes open to wonder and a mind open to change.