Learning Across Generations

We had a wonderful conversation last night with my daughter Lauren (who is graduating from college this week) and two of her friends. The mood was celebratory with lots of speculation about Lauren’s future and so forth. The conversation became focused and very interesting as we began to talk about how her generation uses and participates in the ‘technological space’ of the Internet. Specifically, we ‘older folks’ were wondering why the young seem so intent on putting everything about themselves—information we’d prefer to keep private—on public display on sites like Facebook and MySpace?

A young man, an impressive and aspiring film producer, said that it’s because it allows them to be much more efficient (and in his view effective) in maintaining relationships. For example, he suggested that when he’s to meet a new friend, he can read all about them, see if they know anyone in common and be fully ‘briefed’ before even the most casual encounter. In addition, he suggested that he can ‘keep up’ with the comings and goings of people in his network without having to invest much time to do so. Short emails replace more lengthy phone calls or social ‘get togethers’. They all acknowledged that in a typical week they’re ‘maintaining’ active networks of conversation with as many as 100 other people!

As I think about my worldview, this is staggering. We live with the idea that relationships take lots of time to nurture and maintain. I think that a dozen or so active relationship conversations is a full plate and that coordinating with even 30 or 40 people in a week would be daunting. While I am still digesting the implications of this, it’s a great example of where I have a lot to learn from my children and their generation.

It’s also interesting to me to notice how I want to compare ‘their way’ and ‘my way’—to place some value judgment on the ‘new’ and preserve what I value about the ‘old’. This tendency is, I think, why we often become excluded from the mainstream conversations of the young, how we, in one way or another, disengage from the world and, at some moment, become irrelevant spectators to the larger game of life and social change.

Our way and our youth wasn’t better (or worse). It was just different.

I learned another lesson last night—that if we want the young to be interested in what we have to offer, then we need to be interested in them.

0 thoughts on “Learning Across Generations”

  1. I’m amazed at how many people in my generation (boomers) aren’t interested in having a relationship with people who are younger than they are. The next generations are really fascinating when we sit down with them and listen. And that’s the key, listening without offering advice or telling them, “When I was your age, blah, blah, blah.” When we listen, we build the relationship.

    I’m a fairly tech savvy person, but places like myspace do overwhelm me! I recently got a logon at myspace, mainly because someone else there had quoted one of my blog posts. But I haven’t added much to it or gone exploring to see if there are others I know out there.

    It’s a brave new world…

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