The graduating class of Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Maryland got some great advice for living well in the Age of the Smartphone at their recent commencement ceremony. It came from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, whose daughter was in the audience of graduates. Roberts warned of the pitfalls of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence and encouraged students to make time for solitude, pensive thought, and “to stay involved with yourself.”
When you get to college…set a little time aside each day to think about things instead of simply acquiring more information. Do not read more, do not research more, do not take notes. Put aside books, papers, computers, telephones. Sit, perhaps just for a half hour, and think about what you’re learning.
Without that time of reflection, a pause in the constant stream of information, our learning will not be effective. American philosopher and education pioneer John Dewey called thinking “a process of inquiry, of looking into things, of investigating.” We don’t just learn from our experiences, we learn by reflecting on them.
Roberts also cautioned students not to rely on the secret algorithms of private companies to guide them in their choices. They “tell you what to read, watch, and listen to” based on what they think they know about you. “The result,” he said, “can be a narrowing and over-simplification that is contrary to individuality and creativity.”
Roberts suggested to students that when they start suffering from “FOMO,” or the Fear of Missing Out, they should take a few minutes to think about their predecessors throughout history, trailblazers and pioneers whose efforts changed the world for the better.
Today’s high school grads face a unique challenge – to thrive individually in a world of connected technology and artificial intelligence. Now more than ever humans must safeguard what makes us human. Having a world of information and entertainment at our fingertips can feel like immense freedom, but like any freedom, it comes with responsibility. We need to set healthy boundaries with our tech and with the companies that produce the tech. We need to keep thinking for ourselves. And we need to engage with the people around us to build strong families and communities.
Image of John Roberts by Brooks Kraft / Getty Images / CNBC.com.