Me chatting with students at Washington & Lee University (photo by Claudette Artwick)
So here I am talking recently to a journalism class at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. In 2010 when Hamlet’s BlackBerry first came out, I met Claudette Artwick, a W & L professor of journalism and mass communication, on Twitter. She invited me to speak to her class via Skype and it’s become an annual thing.
I do a lot of school talks, to audiences of all sizes. When I was writing the book, some older friends advised me that, while people over the age of 40 might be interested in my rethink of the tech revolution, younger people would be TOTALLY against it. They just want to live their whole lives on and through the screen, these great experts-on-youth warned.
They were so wrong. People under 30 have been, by far, the most open to my message. Why? Because older people are often insecure about the new gadgets and fearful of questioning them – lest they come off as, well, old. But young people are totally comfortable with everything digital, because they grew up with it. And they have no worries about seeming old, because they aren’t. So they’re happy to critique the assumptions of the revolution, particularly the one I call Digital Maximalism: the more connected you are, the better.
If your screen life isn’t making you happy, change it. Take control. Define your own existence. Get away from the digital crowd, with all its demands and conformist tendencies. Free your mind. Later, when you return to Twitter or Facebook or whatever you like to do online, you’ll have more to bring to the conversation. Because you’ve been elsewhere having other kinds of experiences.
Are they changing again?
When I say these things to younger audiences, I get smiles, nodding heads, eyes lighting up. Not everyone is enthusiastic, for sure. But there are many more mischievous heretics among the digital natives than my Baby Boomer friends ever imagined. When you think about it, this fits. Boomers created the digital world and, in a way, they’re defending their own turf. But a 20-year-old has no need to accept the established rules of that turf, other than pleasing the elders – and how boring is that?
Why am I telling you this? Because I haven’t posted here in quite a while, and lately I’ve noticed something. It’s a sort of awakening, a spreading realization that, though the new connectedness is fantastic, the 24/7 always-on approach is no way to live. To get the most out of your connected existence, you have to master the art of disconnecting.
It’s happening in the more innovative pockets of the tech community, where I recently spent some time working on a project (Nick Bilton of the NYT just noted the same shift), and among the young.
Another friend I met on Twitter, tech entrepreneur Kevin King, saw the Washington & Lee photo and tweeted at me: “great pic from W&L. In a recent trip to Charlottesville, I was thrilled to see how many students were *not* on their phones!”
“Yeah,” I replied, “change is in the air. Not just among young people but, being young, they are the most alive to it.”
The world is always renewing itself. And the young show us the way.