Home Americanism The Kids Are Alright. Or Maybe They Aren’t

The Kids Are Alright. Or Maybe They Aren’t

pete viewed by a fan
pete viewed by a fan

I own the CD “The Best of Pete Townshend,” and the use of the word ‘best’ in relation to this collection of songs is misleading, at the very least. For a best of CD there is surprisingly little that’s very good. I don’t even remember exactly why I own it—either it was $2 in a bargain bin, or I permanently ‘borrowed’ it from a friend (one of those times when stealing from someone is doing them a favor). I’ve probably already pissed off all the Who/Pete Townshend fans to the point that they’ve stopped reading, but the other day I was reminded of Pete and The Who when I inadvertently paraphrased the Who’s famous dictum that ‘The Kids Are Alright’ (INSERT ALBUM TITLE?) in a discussion of today’s kids and where they stand in relation to previous generations.

I was speaking with a recent college grad who was bemoaning the sad state of today’s youth. So many video games, so little attention span is what it basically came down to. Not just video games, of course, but texting, Twittering (still not going to use the even more stupid sounding word ‘ Tweeting’), status updating, rapid-fire web surfing, movies and TV shows that don’t allow for single shots that last more than five seconds, and all the rest of today’s multi-tasking have apparently rendered today’s youth incapable of concentrating on anything for very long. This 2011 college graduate (of an elite program in a major university) told me that professors are now shortening reading and writing assignments to accommodate this change. I was incredulous, but it seems to be a real trend, and there is no shortage of both anecdotal and empirical evidence that kids are, broadly speaking, changing in response to the new social environment.
Nearly every generation, it seems, has faced its succeeding generation with at least some trepidation. And the fears of the previous generations have always, as far as I can tell, been proven wrong when society lumbered on—improved in some ways, worse in others (an ancient Egyptian glyph reflects this same concern about the younger generation being significantly worse than the previous, proving that since history began societies have been worried about this). And new technology has often been seen as the agent responsible for corrupting youth and society as a whole (the telephone, it was thought, would bring civility and personal interaction to a halt). So it is tempting to dismiss today’s concerns as just so much hyperbole.

And yet it is difficult to completely dismiss the effects of today’s technology on children (and adults, for that matter) as benign. It seems inarguable that in a world with thousands of TV channels, millions of online options for entertainment, smartphones that beg (and sometimes beep) to be monitored constantly, we have more stimuli than ever. 20 years ago the term multitasking was almost unknown—today it often is a job (if not life) requirement.
It does seem that there is something to the argument that technology has had a pronounced effect on the way kids are today. How could it not? Many U.S. kids are online for hours each day, they text constantly, watch awful reality TV, and sometimes do all three at once. The Jersey Shore alone probably cost us 10 IQ points per capita.

Yet it may not be all bad—kids might claim that they have skills older people never developed (effective multitasking, for example—never mind if such a thing is even possible, with some studies showing that it is not). But whether the net effect is good or bad, it exists, and it won’t go away. People seem to enjoy having constant internet access, cell phones, and crappy reality TV, and no one is going to tell them they can’t have those things regardless of how bad they might be. And if we’re worried about the kids not being alright, we could always take the radical step of finding ways to have parents more involved in raising their kids. Unfortunately that is probably about as likely as the internet disappearing or people deciding they shouldn’t watch crap on TV, but if Pete Townshend can (un-ironically) put out a ‘best of’ album, I suppose anything is possible.

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