On the days that I drive the middle school carpool, I purposely choose a route that takes us past a huge river. Some mornings, the water looks like glass; others, it reflects the moody clouds above with choppy waves – either way, it’s gorgeous. Every time we drive past it, I point it out to my car full of 12-year-olds: “Look at the water today. Isn’t it beautiful?” No one in the car looks up. They are all looking down at their phones, playing games with each other, texting a friend or watching a YouTube video. Sometimes, if I am lucky, I will get a mercy grunt out of one or two of them in reply.
It struck me recently, after one of my quiet carpool rides, that my generation of parents – we of the soon-to-be or recently 40 year old Gen X variety, the former latchkey children of the Cold War and an MTV that actually played videos, former Atari-owners who were raised by the the Cosby Show and John Hughes, graduated high school with the kids from 90210, then lumbered through our 20s with Rachel, Ross, Chandler, Monica, Phoebe, and Joey and flip phones – is perhaps the last to straddle a life experience both with and without the Internet and all its social media marvels. After all, I didn’t even learn to use e-mail until I was 19 and a sophomore in college in 1993, and only for a slightly cringe-worthy reason: a cute boy at another college asked me to e-mail him.