Recently, Amanda Mull, writing in the Atlantic, spoke of “Generation C” (for Coronavirus). It was a highly pessimistic piece, resuming all the frustration of kids and parents in a time when in-person school is being cancelled, colleges are on hold, long-sought admissions are worthless, athletic programs are gone, and more.
I know many feel that way. But if young people think of themselves that way—as a ruined generation—they are lost. Far more importantly, they are wrong. They are rather, the start of something new and better. Some already see it.
The turn of the millennium—a convenient moment which will long be remembered in history—brought us three important new things simultaneously: New, empowering technology, New attitudes and beliefs, and, almost providentially, a clear disruption between the old and the new, i.e. Covid. We all see the technology, but what many don’t see is the speed at which it will reach today’s “have-nots.” Elon Musk’s globe-covering Internet service—Starlink—is already in place. In 10 years we won’t all be equal technologically, but ALL will have what only some have today—incredible power and connection. It is time to learn to use it.
A huge problem standing in our way is the beliefs of the “Last Pre-Internet Generation” — all of today’s adults, all born in the 20th century. They desperately seek to pass on a set of beliefs that were very important in their times—but that are no longer useful for today’s and tomorrow’s kids. Paramount among these is the need for “education” as they knew it— i.e. school and college. But the idea that kids still need tomorrow what they got in the 20th c. —hand calculation in an age of computers, reading and writing in an age of text-to-voice and voice-to text, multiple languages in an age of instant daily-improving translation, previously human-only skills in a world of AI—anybody see Watson Debater?— is just wrong. Yet ALL of today’s parents and teachers are from the Last Pre-Internet Generation. Whoops!
Even more important than technology change is generational belief change, because that is what actually causes new behaviors. Beliefs are changing generationally at the turn of the millennium—per cultural anthropologists like Genevieve Bell—with regard to technology, privacy, property, personal relationships, sexuality, race, security, power, kids, work and jobs, empathy, violence and abuse, god and religion, justice and injustice, money love, government, and even time and space. A great many adults may wish these beliefs weren’t changing, but they are.
At the same time we are delegating more and more to our machines. This is not a bad thing, because it leaves us what we do best. But it is key that we see it not as a threat, but as a new symbiosis (which has already begun with our kids and their smartphones):
It is not a time for adults to despair—it’s a time for kids to use their new power to create—with adult’s help, if offered. Covid has just stormed the Bastille of our outdated 20th c. education system. Onward Generation E — Excelsior!