by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
Well, it is really happening. I’m starting to become an old fuddy-duddy. While I’m not a full-grown coot yet, I can tell that “the change” has started.
I should have seen it coming back in 2004 when Matt Blunt was elected governor at age 33. I always knew there would come a day when Missouri would elect a governor who was several years younger than I, but I had assumed I’d at least have one or two gray hairs by then. I chalked it up to random chance at the time but can see now it was an omen of bad things to come.
This past semester, I had the opportunity to teach an undergraduate Web design course at one of the local institutions of higher learning. Like most people, I still imagined myself as being just as tied into the culture and interests of undergraduates as I was on the day I got my undergraduate degree. But on the first day, I noticed something was different. First off, it didn’t even occur to the students there was a time when there was neither Internet nor laptop computers. They assumed those inventions – which are only about 15 years old – have always existed in the modern world, like running water or indoor plumbing.
The real epiphany came when I gave the students their assignment for the final project – a substantial Web site on a subject of their choosing. Like any good teacher, I tried to provide a concrete, albeit fictional, example of what was expected for their project. My example: a Web site for the Columbia Area Bass-O-Matic Blender club. As I walked the students through the various features and functions of the fictional Web site, they took notes in stoic silence. I assumed they were just nervous about the importance of the project on their grade, and I tried to relieve the tension with some jokes about what alternative uses one could have for a Bass-O-Matic Blender or what such a club would do at its monthly meetings.
Only after another 10 minutes did it occur to me to ask, “You all know what a Bass-O-Matic Blender is, right?” Not one had heard of the classic Dan Ackroyd routine from Saturday Night Live. It was then I realized I was face to face with a group of adults who never knew a time when Ronald Reagan was president, who only know the Cold War as history and who never knew the IBM Selectric typewriter as a marvel of office productivity.
Ironically, I was able to find the Bass-O-Matic routine on YouTube and send it to the students via Instant Messenger.
I blame my premature fuddy-duddyness on “Internet time,” the acceleration of our daily lives caused by our increasingly technologically advanced society. It is my thesis that this acceleration has decreased the time between generations so that the time it takes to develop a cultural difference between one generation and the next is only about 15 years. Culturally, I have much in common with those who are 20 years older than me but almost nothing in common with those 15 years younger than me.
In other words, Generation Z will follow Generation Y in less than half the time it took for Generation Y to follow Generation X. I will concede it is largely unfair that the older generations get to name and classify the new generations: Generation X, Generation Y and so forth. However, I imagine with the increasing number of generations alive in our society today that high school and college students are developing their own classification scheme for old fuddy-duddys.
• Early Fuddy-Duddy: This person makes conversational references to “Friends” episodes and uses e-mail but doesn’t have a MySpace page. Can still be trusted and might even be a productive citizen.
• Middle Fuddy-Duddy: Manages to surf the Web with only occasional help but checks e-mail only once or twice a week. Might make references to “MAS*H” characters or some guy named Richard Nixon. Might have the occasional relevant insight to offer, but the insight is usually not worth the time it takes to tell it.
• Too Far Gone Fuddy-Duddy: Thinks a spreadsheet is a piece of paper. Favorite action movie is “African Queen” and can send messages via fax.
Oh, well. There is probably no way I can resist the forces of old fuddy-duddydom. Hank, Irene, here I come …