Age Meets Youth

‘Age Meets Youth’ is an excerpt from my forthcoming e-book autobiography.

Quotes about “the trouble with youth today” go back so far that bibliophiles and scholars argue over attribution. Socrates and Plato are often cited as first sources. Our Junior High Latin teacher offered us a version from ancient Rome: “The trouble with youth today is that they don’t listen to their elders, and they ride their chariots recklessly through Roman streets.”

Today’s youth are literally wired into social networks on a scale totally inconceivable to even the young princes and princesses of my 1950’s world. Today’s youth read much more on the average than youth of my time, yet the average length of a document today is about four sentences. One uses “aggregators” to keep up, conceptually combing and integrating hundreds of distinct documents every day. A cloud of hundreds of collaborators, none of whom has ever met the others, may produce a single conceptual thread or quality software product, and distribute it for free while the Microsofts scramble to provide the equivalent of staplers. Rolodexes and in-boxes for the modern office. The unparalleled productive potential of the new paradigm hasn’t yet even been fully unleashed, but it is coming.

We perhaps criticize today’s generation for never having read a full-length book in print, and for having lower scores in math, science and the humanities than my book-toting generation. It seems undeniable that a great new generation is missing tools to unharness its full power. Even if so, why then is it the youth of today are leading their parents into bringing down unresponsive governments in Egypt and Libya?

My guess is that they are getting closer to the core of the idea. McCluhan’s observation that technology got in the way of the message finally caused us to hide the technology in the background layer completely, so we could at last focus on the message and deprecate the messenger.

And so when age meets youth: How do you do; terrified to meet you. Not fun for the young either. Here is this vast chasm, with you over there, and me over here on the edge. Please forgive my natural inclination to stay on my crumbling ledge, if that’s OK with you. Boring over here, but fun to watch.

It was grand to be young once. I was handsome, immortal, bright and witty, and loud and funny at the parties. I was captain of my own ship, master of my own soul, wrong most of the time, and ‘outrageously wrong’ beat ‘merely mistaken’ two times out of three.

I’m tame now, having no desire to cross the chasm and rejoin my past, but I remember those days fondly and wish you all the luck in the world — even though all the luck in the world was not quite enough to save me from my youth.

Tame, maybe, but unbowed. From where I stand, you’re doing a fine job. And the future depends on you now.

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