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These kids today ... are pretty darned amazing

Opinion Column

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

These are the days of miracle and wonder.

-- Paul Simon

Overheard comment: "These kids today, this younger generation, they're headed for trouble. They don't have the necessary work ethic, they're lazy, they have a different set of values and they won't listen to grown-ups."

I could have pointed out that all those qualities are things kids pick up from the adults in their lives, but I didn't. I merely made a suggestion: Ask one of these kids if they can program your cellphone or your computer.

Contrary to what most adults older than 40 say, the generation of youngsters making its way through our schools today is arguably the smartest generation of kids in the history of this country. No, most of them aren't interested in doing things the hard way when they can simplify them, and only a few of them adhere to the same value system of their parents and grandparents.

But turn one of them lose with one of these newfangled devices that, like it or not, are a part of every viable profession of the 21st century -- and, yes, I'm sure that includes even the world's oldest profession -- and they work wonders.

My biggest concern involving, what is this, Generation Z?, is that they don't realize how incredible all this new technology and their mastery of it are. Sure, they can tell you what they're doing and why -- even though most folks not their contemporaries don't have a clue what they're saying -- but the wonder of it is lost on them. Kind of like asking Buster Posey how he hits a 99-mph fastball. He just does.

They just do.

For those of us who have trouble letting go of what Springsteen calls our "glory days," we need to come to grips with a simple bit of reality: We live in an age of technological advancement that surpasses any era in the history of this planet except perhaps mankind's discovery and mastery of fire and the Industrial Revolution.

Things that we thought improbable, and even down-right impossible, 25 years ago are now so commonplace they barely register. The latest bit of technology that finds its way into products these days is oftentimes obsolete by the time manufacturers can mass-produce it. While those of us who did not grow up with smartphones as extra appendages or computer mouses -- mice? -- attached to our hands are trying to get up to speed, these young kids master each advancement with no more than a shrug.

I interviewed an amazing 22-year-old young lady a couple of weeks ago who's celebrating her graduation from college by spending a year of her life on a mission trip to Hong Kong. There, Sara Lowery will serve as part of the Episcopal Church's Young Adult Service Corps team involved in the Hong Kong Diosese's Mission for Migrant Workers program.

During our interview, I only half-jokingly pointed out to Lowery that her generation is not exactly noted for its service to mankind. I think I even used the term "self-absorbed" in an attempt to make my point.

Lowery took exception.

"I don't know that your assessment is very fair," she said. "I know a lot of people my age who are doing some pretty amazing, selfless things. A lot of my friends who graduated with me have already started doing things that are going to make a difference in this world."

Duly chastened, I quickly apologized. Later I thought about my own daughters, one of whom at 19 is working two jobs to help pay her way through college, and the other who at age 11 has a grasp on technology that so far surpasses mine I've quit being embarrassed when I have to ask her to fix something on my simple little cellphone, which she constantly ridicules as "old-fashioned."

And I think about the 15-year-old boy in the house who can take any piece of equipment made apart, fix it and put it back together but doesn't have time to do that kind of thing so much because he's busy planting and tending his own garden or some other such project.

So I'm going to have to take a pass on future criticism of "these kids today." It turns out that, by and large, they're doing some pretty amazing things already, thank you.

As Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry pointed out in song all those years ago, "The kids are all right."

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.