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Cam Marston on Different Generational Experiences and Perspectives

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A friend was at a customer’s chemical plant with a young computer engineer who by all reports was “brilliant” and great at his job. My friend wanted to visit with the plant manager, so he gave this young employee the plant schematic and told him to go find the terminal to do the needed software update. A little while later the young man returned and asked his boss to step outside. He looked embarrassed and helpless, and he confessed to my friend in a whisper that he couldn’t find the terminal.

A plant schematic is, essentially, an old-school map. And this young man just didn’t know how to read a map. All his life he’d been given directions through his phone. So, reading maps was a kind of literacy he just didn’t have.

Now, as a parent and old person, I’m often tempted to talk disparagingly about “kids these days.” I like to get together with my old person friends and complain about how kids these days are soft, have no resilience, have no social skills. They don’t even know who John Lennon is and have no point of reference for a world without the internet. And, they can’t even read a map!

And, of course, my kids also have a good time taking shots at me. Though I’m not a Boomer, they often shut me up with “OK Boomer” which makes me seethe and which is exactly what they want. For a long while I thought Tik-Tok was about clocks. And recently I’ve started going to them to fix the internet and the TV.

But as fun, as tempting, as easy as it is to write off a whole generation like this, I’m not sure it really gets us anywhere. Young people often lean towards new ideas as being best. Old folks are biased toward solutions we have experienced, and we know should work. And we both get frustrated when the other side won’t buy-in to our point of view. We both get frustrated when the other side won’t even ask us for our point of view.

It would have been easy for my friend to just write off that young engineer along with his whole generation. Instead, he realized the world has changed a lot, and he had his own weaknesses. For instance, he, the owner of the company, had no idea how to install the software update. Individually, these two people were helpless. But one of them had the update and the other could read the map. So, together, they made a great team. As it turns out, we need each other.

Of course, none of this means that my kids and I don’t still enjoy the chance to occasionally tease each other. So if any of you old people like me out there are having a rough day, and need a little pick up, give one of your kids an opened, old school service station map and ask them to fold it up nice and neat. You’re in for a treat.

I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to keep it real.

Cam Marston is the Keepin' It Real host for Alabama Public Radio.