Just finished my first panel at ConDFW, “Androids at the Dinner Table: Gadgets, Social Media and Society.” I was expecting to pretty much talk about things like the use of cell phones at the dinner table, the gross creeper potential of devices like Google Glass, and even some of the fun people have been having with stuff like Google Streetview.
It…didn’t really turn out that way. We talked about cell phone issues a teeny bit at the beginning of the panel, but after that the topic wandered a bit into publishing today versus back in the day territory, and also the usual “kids these days” tropes. Which seems to happen often when there’s a panel talking about society in the present and near future.
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t count as one of the “kids these days” any more. I’m in my thirties. But maybe I have a different perspective on a lot of these issues because I grew up during the surge of this technology. We went from mobile phones being these hilarious looking bricks or things attached to your car when I was in grade school, to suddenly in high school the rich kids had them, and by the time I had my first career path job (at 19), I’d bought my own and they were everywhere. I cut my teeth on dial-up bulletin boards before the www and browsers were really a thing, and by the time I hit high school we had a computer in every classroom and I was making websites on geocities and posting my terrible Sailor Moon fanfiction online.
And maybe I also have a different perspective about the kids these days because the roundabout way I got my degree (returning to a traditional university after a near decade-long hiatus) and my current social life have put me in a space where at 33, I’m dangerously close to being fossilized.
So, speaking from that perspective: Lay off the kids.
We’d rather text people than call. So what? We establish our personal space in crowded environments using a cell phone rather than a newspaper or book. So what? We meet people we like and get to be friends with them via social media, chatting back and forth in endless instant messenger conversations, watching movies together by live streaming. So what? Instead of sitting down at the local nerd lord’s kitchen table, we roleplay on journal systems or forums or by IM or have players skype in. So. Fucking. What.
I’m beyond tired of hearing about how we’re isolated, how we don’t know how to talk to each other any more. Have you ever considered that maybe, you just don’t know how to talk to us?
I have more friends now than I ever did before the age of the internet. I have more friends who will drop everything and talk to me if I’m having a problem, who will go out of their way to help me, who will create art with me. I have more friends that I can meet online for card games or roleplaying games or first person shooters (like paintball without the cardio component or the injuries), than I ever have in “real life.” I have more friends who have laughed with me and cried with me and been connected to the transformative moments of my life.
There is little anyone can say that will offend me more, and in a more personal way, than claiming that my friends are not real because we are so separated by physical distance that we have to use technology to communicate.
And kids these days don’t read? Don’t create? Can’t imagine?
You literally cannot use the internet without reading, without communicating using the written word. Did everyone sleep through the YA boom that Harry Potter set off? Have you been avoiding the young nerds who will talk your ear off about this amazing world they made up and want to use as the base for a video game or comic or novel? Have you completely missed the massive presence of fanfiction and fanart, a set of interlocking communities that are populated by people of all ages, yes, but mostly young people? Have you avoided the innovative ways “the kids” are expressing themselves on youtube and with podcasts and using services like vine?
Doing something differently doesn’t automatically make it inferior. Living life differently doesn’t automatically make it less of a life.
So let me tell you about the “kids these days” I have come to know. They are smart, and they are creative, and they are empathetic. They are people who are deeply worried about how the older generations have fucked up the world they’re going to inherit. They’re people who are aware of what kind of giant mess the schools are ejecting them in to, and yet they’re still reaching out to each other across unimaginable distance and doing what human beings have always done: create, and connect, and love.
The kids are all right.