This column originally appeared in the Davis Enterprise, Davis, California.
As a generation, when did we fall off the coveted spot at the top of the heap? Numero uno, king of the hill, the best and the brightest? I don’t remember feeling the drop in altitude, did you? One moment I’m mumbling under my teenage breath watching my father stumble his way through wiring-up our new 1962 Zenith hi-fidelity stereo system. The next minute I’ve swapped roles as my son oh-so-patiently explains to me for the umpteenth time how AOL instant messaging works and that “MySpace” is no longer his bedroom. Eventually I get it, but it’s not pretty.
On rare occasions I’m ahead of my son’s learning curve, beating him to the punch on some variation of blogging, podcasts or the like. However, knowing of is not doing. Within a day, he’s spinning a presence on the web and attracting search spiders. All I’m left with is a deflated gloat and day old news.
The irony is, my world is a direct extension of my father’s—pre-transistor and mired in the mechanical. I gravitate toward carburetors rather then fuel injection, and black box technology leaves me tapping on the outside with a hammer. This is not to say that I’m some variation of proto-man flinging bones into the air. I spend my day absorbing a face full of photons from a flat screen but my mindset is grounded in earthen dirt, not the virtual.
Not that I didn’t see the great divide coming years ago; my son and I have hit plenty of markers along the way. Ever try to read Tom Sawyer, Twain’s classic gift to American literature, to your children? Three chapters into the book I gaze up to find an utterly befuddled look on his face. Where I was completely comfortable with the images of Tom’s world of bare-footin’ and steam-powered riverboats, he had not a clue. What in my son’s experience could he use to relate? There was no common ground here whatsoever. I might as well have been holding a torch in a cave deciphering pictograms and recounting some last great mammoth hunt.
As a teenager, I read Lord of the Rings six times, The Hobbit included—no cheating here. When we heard the movies were coming I could hardly wait to share the literary experience. We dusted off the four books and with great effort, each of us slogged our way to the midpoint of The Two Towers before jumping. When had this epic of epics turned into a British travel journal where no one moved? Ten pages to describe lichen on the side of the road? We placed the books back next to Canterbury Tales and went to the movies. The truth of the matter is the Trilogy hadn’t changed but the world did, big time.
A case in point: I remember as a kid watching commercials extolling the miracle of Scotch Tape. Yeah that’s right, plain old tape. Considering that between the thirties and the fifties, television was practically the only new item dropped into the American household, invisible tape you could write on was cutting edge material. This was the pace of technology back then; my childhood not markedly different from what my father experienced.
Today, there is a line of demarcation being scratched in the sand, clear and deep. Enormous change is afoot and the ones holding that stick are in the room next to you playing computer games. I watch today as my son works a laptop like a musical instrument. There is an elegance and grace in the way he interacts with the machine, something that I will never master. It comes so naturally to him he has to stop and rethink the physical steps to explain it to me—I’ve taken him out of his element.
This year he is a senior and member of the first graduating class of Leonardo DaVinci High School. The world he and his peers live in is constructed of microchips, stem cells and String Theory. If this is their Scotch Tape, what a ride this generation is in for.
As for us, the parents? We were “the” generation, baby boomers crowned to govern a future new world order. In truth, we just missed the boat by a scant 20 years. Feel that sticky stuff on the bottom of your feet? That’s the last vestige of the industrial age taping you fast to the dock. Sorry to break it to you partners, but we’re here to stay.
Cheer-up, it’s really not so bad a spot to watch as our kid’s world leaps to light speed. We may not be on the traveling end but we have the next best seat. In Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke had the future pegged except for one small detail. We, as a generation didn’t evolve into the star child, we gave birth to them.