Play it Again, Sam

Ahhhhh the Youth of Today.  A mess, aren't they?  They prefer texting to talking, online to outside, MySpace to the library.  They are distracted, unorganized, lazy, and disrespectful.  They can't form a complete thought, never mind a complete sentence.  They abuse language and ignore the rules of grammar and discourse.  They have no stamina or deep interest in anything.  They are so fixated on social networking and their cell phones that they aren't learning how to cope and communicate in the real world.  They are coddled and spoiled.  Yet they are exposed to more danger than ever before.

Sound familiar?  If not, then you probably never talk to anyone who works with kids - teens in specific.  I hear variations on this lament nearly daily, from colleagues, grad students, friends, my own mouth.  As someone who rides the digital native/digital immigrant line I can see where everyone is coming from.  Afterall, it's the same place they've been coming from for 2800 years:
I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words.

When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.
--- Hesiod, Eighth Century B.C.
We thought it was the Youth of Today that were the downfall of civilization and culture.  Turns out it was the Youth of Twenty-Eight Hundred Years Ago that started it all.  Today's kids running around on the internet, playing in the street, talking back in text-speak . . . just the latest in a long history of Youth vs Establishment.

At one point everything is new and with new technologies and new ideas come changes - sometimes cosmetic, sometimes fundamental - to the ways we interact, learn, express ourselves, and navigate the world.  Priorities shift, new information changes old ways of thinking, concepts of what is rude, healthy, or safe reflect these changes.  All of which can be very uncomfortable to the old guard.  Especially to those whose ideas of right and wrong are firmly entrenched in the Truths they were taught.

The internet has had a profound impact on our culture.  It has changed the way we participate, socialize, and organize.  It has shifted the seats of power and influence, and our perceptions of public and private.  As Danah Boyd, of UC Berkeley, wrote in her excellent paper, Why Youth Heart Social Network Sites:
In today’s society, there is a push towards privacy.  It is assumed that people are public individuals who deserve the right to privacy rather than the other way around.  With an elevated and idealized view of privacy, we often forget the reasons that enslaved peoples desperately wished for access to public life.  By allowing us to have a collective experience with people who are both like and unlike us, public life validates the reality that we are experiencing.  We are doing our youth a disservice if we believe that we can protect them from the world by limiting their access to public life.  They must enter that arena, make mistakes, and learn from them.  Our role as adults is not to be their policemen, but to be their guide.
The new isn't necessarily bad, but it is different.  What makes a good friend may not change - a person who listens and hears you, who stands up for you and with you, who is trustworthy, kind and with whom you have fun.  But the ways these characteristics manifest themselves may change drastically with new ways of communicating and new social networks.  Sometimes to the point of not being recognizable to people not immersed in the new technologies.

As people who work with teens, it is important that we try to keep up, admit it when we haven't, and learn instead of judge.  New is not bad, old is not good (and neither is the reverse true), and the Youth of Today are destroying the world, just like they always have.

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