The funny thing is, it's not hard to be with them -- a) because I'm immature, so I fit right in, and b) because they remind me of my daughters (more mature, in many ways, than I -- certainly more mature than I was at their age).
But today's maturity is so -- I dunno -- immature. People who are in their late teens or early twenties have seen so much, done so much, sampled so much; but it's sampled from sanitized and digitized life-drives. Sometimes their lives seem to me like one big iPod, where if you don't like the song, the class, the interaction, the drug, the sex -- you just push a button and begin a new experience. They've played every sport, but never in pickup games on the street. They've been to every continent, but only on organized tours. They are aware of everything, but think that's the same as knowing everything.
The most indelible sense-memory I have is of sitting in the back of a fairly large lecture hall, with about 200 students arrayed in front of me, and the glowing forest of electronic devices, the snackety-snack sound of keyboards beneath the droning professors, the multiple screens on the PCs and Macs, upon which students took notes, checked e-mail, chatted, listened to music. When I was growing up, the world was a ghetto. Now it's a playlist.
And yet, for all that curmudgeonly complaining . . . I love my fellow students. I am so in awe of their humor, their bursts of vulnerable humility, their hysterical senses of humor about their own neuroses, their desire, their insistence on seeing and doing and learning and being as much as possible. Theirs is a much more cynical world, but they are, somehow, much less cynical than my generation was. Having been reared in the shockwave of the (first) Kennedy assassination, under the mushroom shadow of the Cold War, and coming of age during Watergate and Vietnam, there was nothing for us to do but proclaim that everything was bullshit, even if you didn't believe it. My colleagues in the classroom, perhaps because of their fluency with accessing information, seem way less inclined to willful self-deception.They know everything's bullshit. They find it funny, challenging, stimulating.
On the other hand: the Internet turns everything into instant history. Relatively recent history -- Kruschev, Mickey Mantle, Elijah Muhammad, Flannery O'Connor -- may be buried forever beneath the new, lost to them in the landfill of contemporary noise.
This I'll say for them. They've been trained to learn, and their brains are learning machines at the peak of their function. They absorb information the way a thirsty plant sucks up rain. They're good, very good, at what they do.
I miss them.