Whenever I read something like this quote my first instinct is to scoff. Every generation believes that they are different and special and the greatest, most intelligent generation ever. Just wait, kids, someday your children and grandchildren will tell you that they are smarter than you. It’s been going on like that for thousands of years. But then I think, today’s kids are different. Their life experience is vastly different from that of any generation before them. They might be different but not in the way they are thinking.
Don’t think that because I’m over 50 I don’t understand the Internet. Some people my age don’t; some younger people don’t. But I totally grok the Internet even though I didn’t grow up with it. In fact, I might understand it even better because I didn’t grow up with it. I not only understand the Internet; I understand quite a few things that today’s kid’s can’t.
When I was a kid there was no Internet, no video games, no DVDs or VCR, and, until the time I was 13, we got only one TV channel. I’m sure the kids would just roll their eyes at this. What value can there possibly be in such deprivation? Why would anyone actually be proud of that? Stupid old people. Okay fine. I can’t explain it to them in a way they would understand. Don’t get me wrong; I love the Internet. I love my cell phone and I love texting. I think it would have been great to have had all that when I was a kid, but I think having experienced a time when those things didn’t exist enables me to appreciate them more and also put them in their proper place. They’re tools. To live online is like living in a shopping mall. It’s a great place to hang out and you can probably get everything you need there to sustain life but if you don’t ever leave it you miss a lot.
I do not believe the current generation of young people “think differently”, as the article claims. They have better tools but underneath, it’s all the same. My generation had an “external memory” too. We called it a library, a notebook, and a pencil. We even had “texting” in the form of notes written on tiny pieces of paper and secretly passed hand to hand during class. Young people now can do things faster and with people who are farther away but they’re still basically doing the same things kids have always done.
I think the big thing that today’s kids are missing and do not understand is freedom. When I was a kid freedom is what you got when school let out for the weekend or the summer. It meant not having any claims against your time. This freedom wasn’t absolute. We had to be home by dark, obey our parents, and most of us had at least a few chores, but we also had a lot of time and few gadgets with which to fill it. It’s wonderful what your mind can come up with all on its own when you set it free.
Today, to many people, freedom means something entirely different. It means being able to get online and say anything you want to anyone you want to say it to, to the whole world, to bully anyone, stalk anyone, slander anyone, annoy anyone, to reveal any or all secrets, and never have to suffer the natural consequences of such actions. But consequences have a way of catching up with you no matter what you do. The failure of people to regulate their own actions results in regulations that spoil things for the innocent as well as the guilty.
I know… I get it. I really do. I’ve always felt that there are a whole lot of people out there who really need a piece of my mind. And yes, I have experienced the desire to get even, to punish someone. But in the real world actions, and words, have consequences and one learns discretion. On the Internet distance and anonymity give one the illusion that actions have no consequences and there’s often shock and outrage when someone learns the hard way that even online there are consequences.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not down on young people, and I do not make the mistake of thinking they are all alike. Just like my generation, they will learn, they will gain understanding and come to respect the value of the different experiences of earlier generations and, as in every generation, a few of them will do great things. I do think they are somewhat deprived of experiences and that it will be harder for them to learn some of the really important things but past generations have overcome many hardships so I will try to maintain hope that at least some members of the next generation can overcome an excess of convenience.
(UPDATE: I’m thinking about a Part II to this.)