by Asim Jalis
Here are some reflections on how children differ from grown-ups.
This is all speculation. I am just thinking out aloud. Maybe
something here will stick.
There is an idea that childhood is a perfect state and then
somehow we eat the forbidden fruit and thrust out of paradise. I
just want to call that out. This is not to invalidate the idea.
In fact the appeal of the story of Genesis might be precisely
that it is a metaphor for what happens when we grow up.
Regarding children, it is true that they live in a kind of
perfect world. They can play for hours with action figures and
toys, lost in their own world. I remember doing this myself. I
was never bored as a child, except when I had to sit properly
because we were visiting someone.
ABUNDANCE OF TIME
One of the things that enables children to play, and to be so
good at playing, is that they have tons of time. Even when I was
in elementary school, I played between classes, sometimes just
doodling on paper. As an adult I spend 9-10 hours per day at
work. So that's a big drain on my idle time. I spend my weekends
worrying about all the little errands I have to run.
PARENTING THE SELF
Perhaps it's that I have so much more control now. As a child I
played because someone else was in control. Now I am in control.
I can make myself work harder. I imagine I can achieve goals.
In some ways I have internalized how I imagine my ideal parents
should have been, and now I parent myself. I have become a parent
to myself. Except it is much worse, because I have much more
power over myself than my parents ever did. It no longer even
makes sense to rebel or to hold a grudge. How can I rebel against
REFACTORING BACK THE CHILD
Also kids have problems. For example, kids care a lot more about
what people think. They care about their peer group. High school
is awful if you don't fit in. But as a grown-up I care a lot
less. I have removed a lot of illusions that I had as a kid which
were harmful. I can see through them now.
The stereotype of a child is a strong N. What about S children. I
know children whose life revolves around just beating up everyone
else. They are little animals.
Maybe the problem is that as we grow up we add more and more code
to our behavior. And over time this gets crufty and some of the
original functionality is lost.
The solution is not to throw out all the code that has been
added, but rather to figure out how to retain the new features,
while cleaning up the code to make sure the old stuff still
WHAT MAKES CHILDREN DIFFERENT
What makes children different. The underlying assumptions
children make about reality might be much simpler than the ones
E.g. we plan too much. Children have no concept of planning or
goals or consequences.
We know too much. Children know little. It's much easier for them
to throw caution to the wind and gamble big. A child will
approach another at a playground, smile, and they'll become best
friends. As grown-ups we know better than to talk to strangers.
Children don't understand or care about money. They don't see the
chains of cause-and-effect that money creates in our lives. Money
is a kind of a spell. Once we become ensnared by it we spend our
lives thinking about ways of acquiring it. We give up the
child-like pursuits that do not bring us closer to money.
RECREATING THE CHILD STATE
Here are some thoughts on how to recreate some of the child
Earlier when we were talking about playing and games (a few
months ago) one of the thoughts was to use scores to turn work
into play. E.g. I used a stopwatch to time how long it takes to
pay a bill -- this turns it into a game. On the other hand, while
the stopwatch is a fun toy and can sometimes make tasks more
interesting, it does not really turn us into children.
A lot of playing that children do is unstructured. E.g. I see my
own children spending hours with action figures. The figures
interact with each other in evolving plots.
I remember when I was small I spent a lot of time with planes and
space crafts. The crafts would fly to distant planets, on rescue
missions, or just explore world. Or they would just fly, for no
reason. It was all play.
STORIES VERSUS FACTS
As a child I loved stories. When I grew up I moved away from
fiction. It seemed like a waste of time. My thinking was: "It's
all made up stuff. It's not real like the non-fiction books. The
non-fiction books are filled with facts about reality. I could
learn something from them." And yet as I reflect on this now,
this sounds like complete nonsense.
Perhaps this obsession with utilitarianism is part of the
problem. Facts are boring and in the end pointless. They don't
define goals or motivate. To get motivated and excited we need
made up stuff. We need to weave the context that make the facts
become important. Science fiction motivates engagement with
One of my coworkers is obsessed with Final Fantasy. I tried to
understand why he loves this game so much. It's not the scores.
It's not the individual challenges. In the end it's really about
creating a different reality. He is able to live and play in this
alternate reality, which is a lot more imaginative than the real
How can we apply all this to our lives. Here are some concrete
Imagine. Visualize and imagine desirable states to motivate
behavior. While no child ever does this, and this is a terrible
hijacking of the child-like gift of imagination, to do mundane
work, it can be used to make the work more enjoyable and playful.
Unstructured Play. Engage in unstructured play at work and at
home. Unstructured means there are no rules. Buy some toys,
action figures, air planes, and try to make up stuff. See what
Read Stories. Go to the bookstore and stay away from the computer
and the business sections. Instead head over to fantasy and other
kinds of fiction. Avoid literary classics unless they are goofy
enough to be amusing to a child. Avoid literature on serious or
important topics. Read Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles,
and other books that are ridiculously playful.