Having our son home for the holidays means having handy answers to all of our tech questions and a chance to see what younger people are thinking about, at least one of them anyway.
With Tao around, my wife and I get little windows into his world, portals though which we can see the trends we read about in action, like how wired (or maybe Wi-Fied) people his age (he’s 21) are. He usually brings a friend or two for the holidays, and the first thing they want is our Wi-Fi password, as if a second offline might leave them adrift as the rest of the world speeds past.
They live attached to multiple devices. It used to be young people who shared a house might yell, “Who used up all the hot water?” Now it’s who’s using up all the bandwidth, the movie watcher, the gamer or the Skyper?
Tao says he has to be on Facebook. He doesn’t particularly like Facebook, but it’s expected that everyone be on it to stay in touch.
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And he really is more connected than we are. Whenever my wife and I mention a relative or even someone we went to elementary school with, he’ll know what they’re up to, whether they’re in New York or Arizona or another country.
It’s a good bet today’s college students won’t be buying Christmas cards or sending holiday letters when they’re our age. Everyone stays caught up.
And it’s not just social stuff they stay on top of. While older Facebook users are posting notes about what they ate for lunch, my son’s friends are posting news bits. They’re engaged with the world outside their social circles.
There was a lot of chatter about Pope Francis, who’s popular with young people because of his stand against financial inequality and his response to a question about gay marriage — “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” Our son said, the pope is “saying all the things politicians should be saying, but aren’t.”
All that news reading can breed a bit of cynicism. Tao said the other day that people of his generation have access to so much information that they can’t be fooled easily. They assume that if something sounds good, they’ll soon find out that it isn’t actually true. Oh, boy.
He reads regular newspapers, and he likes The Onion, for its humorous take on the news, and Upworthy, which he says offers videos that are sometimes inspirational and counteract the silliness that is common on some sites popular with young people.
I clicked on the site, and there was a holiday-giving suggestion — the earnest group named charity: water, which does clean-water projects in poor countries.
Whenever I bump into parents I haven’t seen in a while, we compare notes on our students. We talk about how different their world is from ours, how immersed they are in rapidly changing technology and how mired they may be in problems our generation helped to create.
I read a piece on graduates last spring that said fewer than half of college graduates are working in jobs that require a college degree, down from 60 percent in 2000. Prospects are even worse for young people who don’t have a college degree.
When I talk with young people, I hear their concern for improving conditions in the world, and not just for themselves. They want a cleaner environment, more equality, less greed.
I hope more of them will get the chance to bring their earnest concerns to bear on the nonvirtual world. Young people have far more to clean up than a pile of clothes on the floor.
Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org