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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Generation gaps

I picked up a copy of the most recent Wolf Parade record, From Mount Zoomer. (It's good, though I've only listened to it all the way through a couple times so far.) There's a line in one song about a telephone ringing without anyone at home to answer it. This brought to mind the likelihood that there are a number of young people today for whom the concept of a phone ringing in an empty house is a totally foreign concept.

I wonder if that would impact their understanding of the song? I'm sure almost everyone would know what the lyric is referring to, whether or not they've spent much time with landlines. But those who grew up without using a traditional telephone might have a harder time connecting with the feeling that the song is trying to convey.

Given that lots of things that form the basis of our daily experience have been changing rapidly in recent years, it seems like there's greater potential for generational disconnects. The generation gaps of yore were created by broad changes in attitudes on big topics like gender roles, sex, politics, etc. While there's still a good bit of macro-level change in attitudes, today's generational divisions also stem from micro-level changes in how people go about their daily lives and interactions with others -- I'm thinking in particular about the influence of cell phones, smart phones, and social networking.

This idea is supported by a study I saw written up in the Post a while back (their archives are pay-only, so I can't get to it now). The researchers found that there were major differences in how young people born just a few years apart were using technologies such as cell phones and social networking. Someone like me who got a Facebook account after graduating from college uses it very differently from someone who used it daily throughout their college years. Current college freshmen, many of whom started using Facebook early in high school, use it differently from either group. Likewise, most people in my age group use texting frequently for logistics and one-off notes, but kids who are a few years younger have entire conversations through text messages.

While individual disconnects like the telephone lyric in the Wolf Parade song might not be a big deal on their own, it seems likely that the cumulative effect of the differences in how the generations think about things will impede cross-generational understanding in unpredictable ways. I suspect that I will end up feeling like a cranky old man before my time, for instance.

1 comment:

lj said...

I'm already there!