Living on the default settings

I want to talk about living on the default settings. I mean “default settings” in the simplest sense, like those on your TV.

When we buy a TV, most of us don’t mess with the settings, at least not at first. We open up the box, hook up all the wires, and start watching “The Bachelor” or “Game of Thrones,” or something in between – and there are a lot of shows in between.

The majority of TV owners only fiddle around with the settings when something doesn’t appear right. The contrast may be wonky. The show may be super dark. The screen may cut off half of the scoreboard. All of that prompts us to open up the settings and finally change them off the defaults.

In the process, we may miss some important details on the show – or an entire battle between the living and the dead. We could also temporarily not know the score of the game. Or, we may get annoyed by how weird the colors look on the screen. Fortunately, you can easily remedy all of that by changing the settings and, for those with right setup, rewinding the program to watch what you initially missed or found annoying.

I’m sure you could find rare instances where people have had traumatic experiences changing their TV settings. In general, and for the point I’m trying to make, leaving your TV on the default settings won’t have catastrophic results permanently in your life.

With all that said, you are not a TV. I know that sounds silly, but hear me out.

All societies have norms that affect how people live and judge those around them. We gauge how we are supposed to act based on what our society has already said is correct. These norms dictate what we look like, what careers we choose, whom we marry, how many children we have, and so much else.

I’m going to talk about the norms in western society, specifically in the United States, in modern times, or at least in my lifetime, from the 1990s onward. I encourage you to think about the norms of where you reside and in the time you have lived.

From my perspective, the norms, or what I will now be calling “the default settings,” in my society are: cisgender, heterosexual, college-educated, married with children, homeowner, car-owner, 401K-haver, corporate job climber, retiree by 60. I will say I think our society is changing, but I still argue that babies born today will face those defaults I listed above.

For instance, today’s babies will be conditioned by society to maintain whatever gender they were assigned at birth. They will still likely be taught – again, by society, not necessarily their parents – that they should fall in love with a person of the opposite gender, or at least society will say it’s more probable they are attracted to the opposite gender.

When they reach high school, they will learn they need to go to college so they can get a job, preferably with a national or international company with thousands of employees. They should try to climb the corporate ladder and get as much prestige and money as possible, while also finding someone to marry and having a couple kids. Society will tell them to buy a house and put some money into a 401K or retirement fund. Eventually, the babies born today will be pressured to retire by 60 and move to Florida or Arizona or somewhere else with warm weather and lizards.

I wrote all that with the assumption the babies born today will live by society’s default settings. I don’t think they all will. And, I certainly hope they all don’t.

Everyone needs to analyze their societies’ default settings. I’m not saying everyone will change their personal settings. In fact, I think some people will live happy lives never changing anything. Those people are not better or worse than anyone else. They are simply just better suited for the defaults.

I contend we must teach everyone, particularly young people, that they can change off of the defaults. They don’t have to be chained to what society dictates is normal. They need to know that and they also need to know what the other possibilities are.

That’s why I think representation in entertainment – movies, TV shows, music, etc. – is so important. We need more diverse voices because we need to know their stories.

We need to hear from transgender people. We need to hear from people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc., etc. We need to hear from people who chose not to go to college. We need to hear from people who chose to not get married and to not have kids. We need to hear from people who do are not interested in getting rich or climbing the corporate ladder. We need to hear from all of those people.

It’s too important not to. Because leaving your TV on the default settings may make you miss a scene, but leaving your life on the default settings may make you miss a whole lifetime of happiness.


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