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By Chuck Bomar
ZondervanCopyright © 2011 Chuck Bomar
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHO EXACTLY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
I work from coffee shops a lot, and there is one thing I know to be true: Overhearing other people's conversations is unavoidable. Some conversations are no big deal, and some just make you laugh. But others, well, you wish you never knew about.
I was recently having coffee with a college freshman named Katy. She had been coming to our church for about a month, and she simply wanted to learn more about who we are, what we do, and why we're going about things the way we are. She warned me she had a lot of questions, so we ordered our java and I told her I was more than happy to try to answer.
Sitting at the table closest to Katy and I were two women and two men that I would guess were in their mid-sixties. They were solving all the world's problems. They had answers and opinions on every political move in history and things they thought politicians should have moved on. The topic of President Bill Clinton's impeachment came up, and they were, of course, discussing everything from what they thought should have happened, to how things could have been handled better, to what his marriage is probably like today. They had it all figured out! It was quite fascinating eavesdropping material. And the volume at which they were talking made it impossible for us not to hear their conversation.
Despite the decibels projecting from the table three feet away from us, Katy and I were having our own great discussion about her life and her thoughts and questions regarding our church. Eventually, after all the world's problems were solved, the people at the table next to us left. I have to admit, I was a bit relieved. I could now focus on my conversation with Katy without being sidetracked.
But immediately after those folks left, Katy caught me by surprise. She looked at me and said, "So, wait, Bill Clinton was impeached? What was that all about?"
At first I was a bit shocked she didn't already know this, and frankly wondered if she was raised in a cave (okay, not really). I was caught off guard, but I was quickly reminded that the events surrounding President Clinton's impeachment all took place at the end of 1998, and Katy was only six or seven years old at the time. It would be quite alarming for a seven-year-old to have been fully aware of the situation and all its nuances. Know what I mean?
Anyway, I briefly explained the situation, and we moved on to our previous topics. We had a great conversation, I learned a lot about her, and she got most of her questions answered.
Katy might be an exception for younger people, and one might assume she would have at least learned about the presidential impeachment in school. But I would suggest she's not the only person her age who doesn't know all about the Clinton administration. I mean, can you imagine a seven-year-old today being able to understand anything about the controversy around President Obama's pursuit of medical reform? Of course not—it's not a part of their world. When the seven-year-olds of today get to college and overhear four people in a coffee shop reviewing Obama's presidency, they probably won't have a clue what's being talked about either.
It's conversations like this one with Katy that serve as abrupt reminders that so many of the world events that were a part of my life have in no way consciously influenced her or others her age. And the opposite is also true. Kay has grown up in a very different world than the one I grew up in. The things that have shaped her development didn't necessarily shape me. As an adult I'm likely aware of the outside influences that have shaped her, but they haven't shaped me the way they've shaped her. And the things I've experienced as part of Generation X are often ancient history to her.
Conversations like this one with Katy make me realize we have grown up in two different worlds. They make me feel old sometimes! But those conversations can also cause me to wonder what I have in common with some of these younger people. It's not that we don't have anything in common—our faith could certainly be one of those commonalities, and we are actually similar in many other ways too. But the reality is our experiences—wars, technological advancements, economic depressions, demands in the workforce, worldview shaping movies, books, and government leaders—shape our perspectives. And perspective influences the way a generation thinks about life, including what each individual values, expects, and pursues as meaningful.
GROWING UP WITH DIFFERENT EXPECTATIONS
I remember going to a Starbucks for the first time and feeling out of place because I didn't know the appropriate lingo. I had no idea what to order, much less how to say it—was it grand or grahn-day or should I just skip the jargon and say large? I was blown away at the new language being yelled out so nonchalantly from behind the counter. Today I can rattle off the coffee shop lingo with the best of them—especially now living in Portland and working from coffee shops! But I remember when it was new. College-age people, however, have never known life without a barista. An occupation and terminology that was once reserved for coffee connoisseurs has always been part of their everyday life.
Coffee's central role in life probably hasn't greatly changed the way we think nor has it hugely impacted our values. But there are other things that have. Technology is one of them. This book is clearly not about technology, but I'd like to take you on a brief journey down memory lane just to illustrate how technology has created a different world to grow up in.
I own and frankly enjoy technologically advanced things. I view them as luxuries because they were things I never had growing up. College-age people, however, have never lived in a world without a total reliance on technology to function in a workplace, relationship, school, and even family life. My luxury has become their world's necessity. And it has created a very different world to grow up in. Technology is not the only thing that has changed our world, but it has changed at least two things in our everyday practical lives: What we expect and the way information is obtained. We may often see the technology-driven world we live in as a challenge, but it's not bad. And recognizing the differences can help us make the most of it. Just for fun, jump back with me a few years ...
TECHNOLOGY IMPACTS EXPECTATIONS
It might be weird to think about, but all a college freshman knows is digital devices. You know, the kind that never skip! Remember when the Walkman was cutting edge? I mean, we could go for a run and not have to carry our boom box! And when the Discman came out we were totally beside ourselves—now we could listen to CDs in our car. We would drive down the street with our new CD holder hanging from our visor and excited to have a cord connecting our Discman to our car's cassette player. We were thankful for the sound quality and the immediate satisfaction of selecting the song we wanted without having to fast forward or rewind for a half hour.
Most college-age people have literally never owned, or possibly held, a cassette tape. When we mention having 45s, they think we're talking about guns. And you can forget about an eight-track cartridge! Man, I remember pulling those things out of the glove box and heaving them over to the center console. For people in college today everything has been available at the touch of a screen. They can carry more than 10,000 songs in a device that has no mechanical parts and is smaller than a cassette tape ever dreamed of being. Today's young adults are used to listening to what they want, when they want, anywhere they want—and on whatever device they have at that particular time.
In the college-age experience, VHS has never existed, and BETA is now a techie term used to describe the beginning stages of web-based development.
The computer with 1GB of memory is useless. "We will never need more than that," we used to say. But today's high quality cameras and cell phones that shoot HD video have made 1GB obsolete. College-age people expect nothing less than a 16GB device that can upload video for the entire world to see instantaneously—and that fits in a pocket.
I remember the Commodore 64. It was far from portable because the screen weighed about twenty pounds. I thought it was so cool, the black screen with green letters and all. And the keyboard—wow, you didn't have to push the button down a mile as if on a typewriter before the letter appeared! If current college-age people have ever seen a typewriter, it's probably been on a big-screen depiction of a World War II newsroom.
The only time they've gotten off the couch to change the channel is when a sibling wouldn't hand over the remote. Remember getting up to turn the knob on the television? I had channels two through thirteen, four of which didn't work, and I was super-excited when that was doubled so that we could flip from A to B channels. (Wow, unfortunately for me, that sounds far too similar to "I used to walk to school uphill both ways.") College-age people today have never known less than hundreds of channels they can choose from and shows they can watch on demand and pause when they have to use the restroom. Of course, they still feel like they have nothing to watch.
For better or worse the expectations they have grown up with are simply different than what I and probably you grew up with. Their consistent experience of top quality and instantaneous everything has molded the way they think and what they have come to expect. Technological developments are inevitable. Like me, you probably enjoy much of what technology brings and have developed some of the same technological dependencies and expectations as young people. But the diff erence is that you didn't grow up being shaped by them. Your technology has been add-ons, not core building blocks. The same technologies have shaped who college-age people are and how they think.
I'm assuming that's not as shocking as the first time you learned Santa Claus doesn't actually fl y around in a sled pulled by reindeer. You know something is different. We can laugh at the differences when we see them in print, but the question is do we take them to heart as we seek to relate to college-age people?
TECHNOLOGY IMPACTS THE FLOW OF INFORMATION
The impact of technology doesn't stop with entertainment. Perhaps the bigger and more central effects can be seen in how information is obtained. Do you remember someone knocking on your door trying to sell encyclopedias? Yeah, well, most college-age people have never even picked one up. Those are in the section of the library many are no longer required to go into. The idea of having to go to a library, pull out index cards to see where to begin looking, pull a book off the shelf, and then look through it alphabetically to find an answer is completely ridiculous.
Searching directly and instantaneously for information has always been the expectation for college-age people. And they don't even know that Al Gore created the Internet. (Come on, you can laugh at that!) All joking aside, they've never known life without the Internet. If they want to start a business, they create and promote a website before thinking about registering the business. They would never think of calling the Yellow Pages to place an ad for their business because they are far too environmentally conscious to do that. What a total waste of time and a tree!
To fill out a time sheet by hand is as archaic as Moses chipping away at a stone. And they certainly can't believe that developing and printing business forms used to be a thriving enterprise. Young adults expect to be able to get information out to the world by the use of a touch pad or screen.
How about a home phone? Nah, that's stupid. Why would anyone ever get one of those? Only old people have landlines. They are viewed as a total waste of money. We're talking about a generation that has always been available, expects everyone else to always be available, and can never seem to disconnect. Writing in cursive might as well be Paleo-Hebrew because college-age people don't use it anymore. They may handwrite in their journal, but would never dream of writing an entire paper by hand. Having to print out an essay or research paper to hand in at the beginning of class is even fading. It's now normal to email it to the professor by 11:59 p.m. on the due date. That is far more efficient and environmentally conscious.
The Moose Lodge is considered to be either a ski resort or a cult. Paying money to be a part of a social club is insane, especially when you can have a voice into any subject online and can be immediately connected to thousands of people's lives and thoughts from an iPad that connects to wireless networks for free. They expect things to revolve around them and their timing.
Before we go any farther, we need to be careful. We can't arrogantly point the finger at "them" and "their" self-centered ways of life. The truth is we also have many of the same tendencies. Ours may show up in different ways, but it's not like our generations were known for their selflessness. Actually, if you look closely at this generation of college-age people, you'll find that they seem to be more concerned about other people than any American generation that has gone before them. They are overall compassionate and believe they can make a difference.
As you grew up you probably watched television news, listened to the radio, or read newspapers in order to get a glimpse into international affairs and events—if you were even interested in something happening so far away. Today it doesn't matter if you're interested or not because CNN's Twitter updates are retweeted by your friends on Facebook. It's hard not to be aware of what is happening in the world at any given moment.
Perhaps the biggest impact of growing up in a world where you always have information at your fingertips is that the world seems much smaller for younger generations. This has played a huge role in their desire and interest to be involved in world affairs and social justice work worldwide. If there are riots in Uganda, they don't need to watch the news because they likely got a text message notifying them of a friend's Facebook status that included a link to a LiveStream video of what is happening. No need for a major network camera crew; everyone has cell phones that can upload video immediately. The world for us used to seem huge, and we never expected to be up on things on the other side of the planet. The world of the college-age childhood is much smaller. The other side of the world is in the palm of their hand.
My point is not to say the world in which this younger generation has grown up is better or worse than the one you did. However, it is important to realize that they are in fact different. We have grown up in a world that has grounded us in certain perspectives and practices, and we have been exposed to circumstances and world events that have impacted the way we think and what we expect. College-age people are grounded in some of the same cultural perspectives as we are, but there are distinct differences too. And that's what this book is about.
As small and humorous as some of these generational differences may seem, they nevertheless should impact how we relate to younger people.
GENERATION TO GENERATION
So what are we to do with all these generational differences? I could go on writing pages and pages of differences and still only scratch the surface of outside influences that make every age stage today different from the same age stage in another generation. It's helpful to identify such influences and differences. It's key to remember and consider them as we intentionally pursue relationships with college-age people. If we don't, we will inevitably place unrealistic expectations on young people, get frustrated, and continue widening the gap between our worlds.
Excerpted from Worlds Apart by Chuck Bomar Copyright © 2011 by Chuck Bomar. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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