15 March 2008

3G Generation

The automobile ultimately shuttled in an era when teenagers could go on dates far from watchful chaperones. And the computer, along with the Internet, has given even very young children virtual lives distinctly separate from those of their parents and siblings.

Business analysts and other researchers expect the popularity of the cellphone— along with the mobility and intimacy it affords— to further exploit and accelerate these trends. By 2010, 81 percent of Americans ages 5 to 24 will own a cellphone, up from 53 percent in 2005, according to IDC, a research company in Framingham, Mass., that tracks technology and consumer research.
"Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old" New York Times (9 Mar 2008; via Textually)

Mostly the linked NYT article treats the advent of widespread intimate computing favorably, but it mentions issues like secretiveness on the part of teens towards their parents, contrasted with a keenness to publicize their intimate lives to the entire internet under pseudonyms. This is not really unusual or surprising, since people are naturally inclined to worry about what their parents will think of their pleasures and adventures.

While the NYT avoids falling headlong into the trap of moral panic, it does adhere to a set of shopworn clichéd surprise. Quelle horreur!
AS president of the Walt Disney Company’s children’s book and magazine publishing unit, Russell Hampton knows a thing or two about teenagers. Or he thought as much until he was driving his 14-year-old daughter, Katie, and two friends to a play last year in Los Angeles.


...The back-seat chattering stopped. When Mr. Hampton looked into his rearview mirror he saw his daughter sending a text message on her cellphone. “Katie, you shouldn’t be texting all the time,” Mr. Hampton recalled telling her. “Your friends are there. It’s rude.” Katie rolled her eyes again.

“But, Dad, we’re texting each other,” she replied with a harrumph. “I don’t want you to hear what I’m saying.”
If this surprises Mr. Hampton, he doesn't understand chordates, let alone, teenagers. Although I strongly suspect the journalist thought this would be a terribly clever way to begin a social trend story.
Baby boomers who warned decades ago that their out-of-touch parents couldn’t be trusted now sometimes find themselves raising children who — thanks to the Internet and the cellphone — consider Mom and Dad to be clueless, too.
Right, 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 spoke with one voice and said, in rapt seriousness, "Never trust anyone over 30." No irony, no self-mockery, no humorous exaggeration. Moving right along, there's a serious paradox in the story that I think escaped the author. It's a human interest story about "technology," so naturally the journalist wants to interview the very most au courant people on the planet. But then she has to infer from her sample that they represent an oncoming wave--like comparing the demographic characteristics of Usonians born in 2008 to those born in, say, 1971. Observing that children born in 2008 are more likely to be, say, ethnically Chinese or Bosniak than those born in 1971 makes some sense; they are more likely to grow up in Hindu households or be exposed to heavy metals before age 5, may also be worth noting. But they're not more likely to be small, cute, chubby, gurgling cherubs than people born in 1971 were in 1972. It is a universal tendency of babies to be thus, and there's no need to make arch remarks about how kids today are forever soiling their diapers, and waking up at random times of the night to shriek, or whatever, because children born in 1971 did the same thing in 1972.

By the way, I picked the year 1971 because the median age of Usonians is 37.9 years. Also, I selected Hinduism because, according to the National Survey of Religious Identification, it is by far the fastest growing large religion in the United States.
Additional Reading (added 31 Jan 2009):

Judith Warner, "The Myth of Lost Innocence";



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