Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

By Dennis D. McDonald

We’ve all seen the lists of things that differentiate younger generations from older generations. Here’s my own:

  • They’ve grown up with cellphones and text messaging.
  • They don’t know how to play phonograph records.
  • They share private details online in ways that horrify their parents.
  • They expect instant electronic access to the web wherever they are.
  • They expect to take their music wherever they go and play it whenever they want.
  • They carry on multiple conversations and keep track of multiple media streams while doing their homework.
  • They can’t remember a time when space travel was science fiction.
  • They think nothing of carrying on a conversation with kids in other countries.
  • They can’t imagine a time before Google or Wikipedia.
  • Many know a kid who has died from a car accident, a drug overdose, or a shooting.
  • They expect to upload and distribute both audio and video programming that they create themselves (or copy themselves - take your pick).
  • They think email, newspapers, and nightly TV news are for old people.

Every generation has a list like this. Heck, I can remember growing up in a household that possessed a single black and white television.

What differentiates the current younger generation from previous ones is the constant connectedness. It’s also the expectation that feelings, attitudes, and experiences can be casually shared with individuals that have never been met face to face.

Today’s artificial shared intimacy is different from the synthetic 3D worlds envisioned by early cyberpunk pioneers and the Wachowski Brothers. But it does create a set of expectations among young people about how they interact with others.

One question is, what happens when today’s young people “settle down” to real jobs, careers, families, home ownership, and debt? Do they carry their expectations of shared artificial intimacy into these next stages of life? Will they abandon them? Or will they evolve them to suit their circumstances?

I can remember the circumstances surrounding various stages in my own life — the first mortgage, the first house, worries about property values, choosing private school vs. public school, fundraising drives, neighborhood watches, car pooling, play groups, prom night fears, eventual college applications.

What was once predictable mind-deadening conversation at demographically homogeneous cocktail parties is now the stuff of Facebook groups. There, details are shared on how to game the enrollment auction at the local over-subscribed high-status pre-school — you know, the one where failing to get your 4-year-old accepted significantly reduces his or her chances at getting into Harvard or Yale?

There’s another possibility: the children of those now entering the work force might decide they want to reduce electronic connections in order to “live life off the grid.”

This might come as a reaction to parents who use social networking and social media to share information electronically about the status of their kids (“TWITTER: Know whose kid I saw smoking by the creek today while charging our solar car?”)

People might also become fed up with how government and business can so easily track electronic behavior since evolving data portability standards might end up being used for reasons other than the sharing of information among friends and acquaintances.

By the time organized resistance to the sharing of personal information becomes a movement, though, it may be too late. By then, cash may have disappeared completely and the difficulty of subsistence living in a barter economy may be too much to bear for the children raised by today’s wired youth. What happens then?

  • Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald

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