I haven’t been able to quit thinking today about this picture of little Macey Gaines sitting with her father as they edited video two years ago.
I shot this picture for a magazine story about a Birmingham couple who have a very successful YouTube channel with half a million subscribers. Cullen was a software developer and his wife Katie was a psychologist. After they launched a YouTube channel just for family and friends, it mushroomed.
After Cullen lost his job in a downsizing, he dove into making the YouTube channel grow. Katie eventually got to quit her job, too — and they now make a nice living from home producing videos for their fans, who come in droves to keep up with the couple and their two children. (Their son Brooks has been born since I photographed the family.)
So why is this little girl — and this picture in particular — on my mind today?
Something made me think Thursday morning about recordings that my sisters and I used to make as very small children on a cassette tape recorder. I wish I still had those recordings — somewhere other than the few that are etched into my memory — and I wish I had pursued my fascination with recording earlier than I have.
I’ve been saving every penny I can lately in order to buy bits and pieces of recording and video equipment. I recently got my first professional microphone — a Heil PR-40 — and I was excited just today to receive a DBX 286s preamp and processor. The equipment I’m slowly accumulating aren’t the sorts of things normal people have at home, but it makes me happy to think about the things I’m going to make with them.
And that’s how all of this somehow connects to the 2-year-old picture of Macey Gaines and her dad.
Something about all of this reminds me how much I want my own future children surrounded by tools of creation — not gadgets of passive consumption.
We live in a consumption-oriented media culture. We watch television. We constantly scan social media. We browse YouTube and the latest meme of the day. We listen to music that others made for us. We hand our children iPads and let them passively consume content to keep them occupied so we can do other things.
None of those technologies are evil. They all have their purposes. But as I’ve wrestled with how they fit into my life — and how they don’t — I’ve come to realize that the dividing line is one of creation vs. consumption.
We all do some media consumption. Ever since books were invented and then newspapers, magazines, radio and television made their way into the world, humans have become more and more passive as they’ve spent more and more time consuming.
And as we spend more time consuming other people’s media, an overwhelming majority are creating less and less of their own.
As I think about little Macey Gaines growing up around cameras, microphones and media-editing software, I find myself thinking she has a chance most children don’t have. She has a chance to grow up immersed in media — but immersed in the idea of creating instead of consuming.
And as I look around at the equipment I’m accumulating, I realize I want that for my own children. I don’t want them watching television as much as I want them making their own video if that interests them. I want them to have access to all sorts of tools — video, audio, writing tools, 3D printers and more.
I want my children to be creators, not consumers — because I believe the future belongs to those who create, not those who passively take what their culture hands to them.
Children are naturally curious and creative. When they get bored, they start taking whatever tools they have and experimenting. They make things.
I did that as a child.
I played with wires, batteries, bulbs and motors. I stripped old telephone equipment out of buildings that were being torn down. I broke things and reassembled them. I built a small neighborhood phone system at one time. I figured out how to bug a phone. I created spooky special effects to scare my sisters and their friends in the night.
I don’t know how much all those things affected who I am today, but I suspect they played a big role.
I didn’t become a phone system designer or an engineer or any of the other things I thought about as I experimented with things as a child. But doing those things gave me a different mindset.
In all that I’ve ever done, I’ve been a creator, not a consumer. I’ve certainly enjoyed some media content, but it doesn’t define me. My drive to create defines me. My desire to make good things — and to give those things to someone I love — is central to my life and goals.
I hope to give the same mindset to my children.
I don’t want my children to expect to be entertained by others all the time. I don’t want my children spending all their time staring at an iPad or TV screen. I don’t want my children to live in video games.
I want my children to be creators.
I want them to find special and amazing things in themselves — and to find ways to bring that inner genius to life through art or invention or business creation. I want them to be among the few who create the world around us, not the many who passively accept what others give to them.
The best way I know to do that is to surround them with tools of creation — and to be a creator as well. If they see the tools of creation — and if they see their parents making use of those tools and involving them in that creation — it seems likely they’ll develop a lifelong habit of creating.
The future belongs to those who create. I want my children to be those who are in the front ranks of creating the future — and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that seems like a natural and attainable path to them.
If that’s what I want for them, I have to live that now. I’m doing all I can to lay a foundation of creation for their future lives, even if they don’t yet exist.