IPods, Cell Phones, IM Help World Recover From Baby Boom Generation

David Sims : First Coffee
David Sims
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IPods, Cell Phones, IM Help World Recover From Baby Boom Generation

By David Sims

The news as of the first coffee this morning, and the music is the most casual, breezy, fun album Frank Sinatra recorded, Come Fly With Me:

A recent survey by Reader’s Digest finds New York to be “the world’s most polite major city,” beating out large cities in 35 countries. “Coming in a close second was Zurich at 77 percent, Toronto at 70 percent, and Berlin, Sao Paulo and Zagreb, Croatia, all with 68 percent,” according to a Reuters report on the findings.

Rounding out the top ten were Auckland, Warsaw and Mexico City. Politeness was measured with door-opening tests, “dropped- document” tests and seeing if service personnel would say “thank you” for a purchase.

“The more than 2,000 tests of behavior showed that people under 40 were more courteous than those over 40, men were more polite to other men and women were more polite to other women,” Reuters said, adding that “People around the world tended to offer the same explanation for their polite behavior – they were polite because they had been brought up to be that way.”

Got that? New Yorkers are the most polite big city people in the world, and under-40 New Yorkers are more polite than the over-40 crowd because they were raised right.

Now somebody named Sharon Jayson at USA Today, vendor of bite-size News McNuggets, comes along with a much more thinly-researched article, cherry picking quotes, sources and experts in an effort to try to convince you the reader that those durn kids today are just in their own world and don’t respect anyone, which besides being the most boringly oft-repeated claim every generation has ever made about the generation immediately following it, would seem to be blown out of the water by the more real-world Reader’s Digest findings.

Jayson’s bogeyman? Three guesses and the first two don’t count. That’s right, newfangled personal technology!

Evidently what’s responsible for kids today not giving a tinker’s damn about anything or anyone but themselves and their friends are IM, iPods, cell phones, Xboxes, a laundry list as boringly predictable as was my parents’ generation blaming television and stereos for the precipitous decline in Western civilization rampant in my generation.

Yawn. First Coffee cannot think of any personal technology, from the sticks and berry dyes used in the Lascaux cave paintings to smoke signals to zoetropes to moving pictures to vacuum-tube floor radios to television to record players to transistor radios (which of course led to listening to the Cubs on WGN when you shoulda been haying in the barn, kid, who’s gonna want to hire someone who listens to the radio instead of working? You better start showing some respect around here…) to Apples (“Chuck just spends all night up there programming that silly computer…”) to Pong to personal computers to Ataris to Walkmans to video games to the Internet to VCRs to Game Boys to portable CD players to cell phones to IM to TiVo to PlayStations to iPods on, which has not been blamed for a “breakdown in the social fabric,” “heightened rudeness,” “buncha damn kids not respectin’ their elders,” “increased drug use,” “not learning how to value money,” fill in the blank with whatever names, dates or countries you wish.

It’s a little-known historical fact that after filling the backlogged orders for Bibles, Johannes Gutenberg’s second job with his newfangled printing press was to run off a broadside for a sociologist at the University of Mainz complaining that the youth of the 15th Century Rhine Valley were not respecting their elders’ social conventions and norms, and spending way too much time with such cutting-edge personal technology as sharpened sticks and charcoal, and their preoccupation with their peer group was keeping them from appropriate interests in pigslopping and buying indulgences from itinerant pardoners.

Recently historians have discovered that Alexander Graham Bell’s second utterance over his newly-invented telephone, after “Come here Watson, I want you” was “Sure hope my daughter doesn’t get a hold of this, we’ll never get her off. Kid’s in her own world – I ever tell you about that time last week, Watson, when we asked her to fill the coal scuttle, and she was too busy talking to Mabel to listen? I tell you, that kid’s in her own little bubble, doesn’t listen to her mother and wears only six layers of petticoats like some Italian immigrant hussy, you’re lucky that you don’t have kids today, Watson, I tell ya, when her generation start running things I just don’t… Watson? Watson? Hello? Operator, someone must have disconnected this call…”

Jayson’s article colors in the same numbers: Kids today, sheesh, whaddya gonna do, they seem to be in their own world alla time, don’t pay attention to nothin’ we tell ‘em, and you should see their clothes! Heavens to Betsy, my momma’d have done whupped me. Once they grow up and start runnin’ the country I don’t know what’ll happen, it’s like they don’t even care what our expectations are, they don’t even listen to me nag them about it, all they care about are their friends and toys, and their clothes, good gracious!

“They’re tuned out in some ways to the social graces around them and the people in their lives, in their physical realm, and tuned in to the people they’re with virtually,” sociologist Sherry Turkle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology tells Jayson, oblivious to the fact that if she dropped her documents detailing this truth on the streets her best bet for someone helping pick them up would be an American under 40.

(The sociologist at M.I.T., isn’t that like the sportswriter for The Wall Street Journal?)

In one way the older generation is learning from the generation they love to criticize so much: Moving with cyberspeed, the anti-MySpace backlash has kicked into gear faster than any backlash against any teen-friendly technology yet.

Some teacher in Cupertino, California (hi Steve) tells Jayson “I don’t think we’re requiring civic responsibility anymore – the social graces, ceremony and ritual, dress codes, social mores and manners… My students seem to be saying, ‘I can separate myself from whatever experience I’m in and create my own bubble.’”

Sure, right up until you need help, then you’d better hope there’s a teen in his own bubble, talking on his cell phone, listening to his iPod floating past instead of a 48-year old who’s never IMed once in her life and needs her 11-year old to program the VCR so she can watch that hunky Kiefer Sutherland on 24 Hours when she gets home.

It’s amazing that young people, demonstrably more courteous to strangers than their parents who are too busy harping on how rude kids are to notice that their kids have stopped to open a door for someone the parent walked right past, could say they were “brought up” to be polite. Evidently learning by negative example takes.

Online commentator Dick Meyer gets it. “This impulse that new is worse, when combined with the eternal tut-tutting about ‘kids today,’ goes far in explaining why grown-ups worry so much about the weird things kids today do with gadgets and gizmos. I’m sure the guy who invented the smoke signal was brutally besmirched by his father, who thought the owl call was perfectly adequate,” he writes.

Despite working for CBS News Meyer’s capable of honest reportage, as he notes he personally doesn’t approve of all the techno-fixation among “kids today,” so as a news editor he “helped send a small squadron of bright reporters (who all use IM with gusto) out into the cyber world to find some bad news about teens and technology. They found almost none.”

Leaving aside the nonchalantly accepted practice of sending news reporters out to find a certain conclusion, instead of asking them to investigate an issue and report on what conclusion they actually do find, a practice First Coffee remembers from his shameful past as an MSM journalist himself, Meyer’s stand-up enough to admit that “As a parent of a teen and an almost-teen, I see tons of kids who on the whole do have the traits I think must be atrophying because of lives lived too much online, on cells and on call; they’re social, polite, imaginative, articulate, learned, and athletic. I don’t know many cyber slugs.”

And it’s not like technology is destroying reading, a criticism repeated ad nauseum ever since the first television broadcast: A recent Yankelovich/Scholastic study found that “contrary to popular belief, kids who use technology platforms to read or listen to books, are more inclined to be high frequency readers (34%), than those that do not (25%).”

So lay off kids enjoying iPods and cell phones and IM. Odds are they’re just trying to get away from your witching at them the way you used to turn the volume up on your stereo when your parents came in to nag you. And they’re turning out to be more polite than you are, so don’t mess with a good thing you can later take credit for.

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