Evolution Requires It

It is not with a sigh of relief that most adults are eyeing today's children. The millions of Power Ranger-obsessed sugar-junkies with thirty-second MTV attention spans are reluctantly turning into America's latest scapegoat. Panic-stricken teachers and parents are sure this is the beginning of the end what with cyberspace and Calvin Klein ads luring our children into basements everywhere."Chill, people!" is what author Douglas Rushkoff would say if his new book were only two words long. But Playing the Future: How Kids' Culture Can Teach Us To Thrive in an Age of Chaos (HarperCollins, $25) is a more appropriate six chapters long, all addressing the high-tech concerns Boomers have about their offspring, which as it turns out, are all based on their own insecurities anyway, like not being able to program the VCR. Playing the Future takes a refreshing look at today's youth. Without pointing fingers, Rushkoff reassures the masses that this latest generation is not simply lost in cyberspace armed only with a remote control. By taking a detailed look at phenomena like Barney, Slime and even the piercing craze, he convinces us that these current fads actually prepare kids to cope better in a rapidly changing world, with the help of a new generational label of course.Fact: Every new generation gets christened with a catchy label coined by the previous generation. Douglas Rushkoff is this decade's lucky winner who pinned the term "screenager" on today's kids, slightly more descriptive than "Generation X." Defined as "a child born into a culture mediated by the television and computer" Rushkoff would say it's okay that screenagers' eyes are glazing over from staring at an electronic box because, evolution, he says, requires it."The degree of change experienced by the past three generations rivals that of a species in mutation," Rushkoff argues. "We must accelerate our ability to process new thoughts and ideas." Playing the Future proves through different examples and theories that children can process new thoughts and ideas much easier than adults, so we should be paying more attention to them rather than pitying them.Rushkoff says, "Our kids may be younger than us, but they are newer. They are the latest model of human being, and are equipped with a whole lot of new features." Of these new features, Rushkoff stresses the ability to adapt to a changing environment, which for many adults contradicts their natural instincts. For example, just as children of immigrants are the first to learn the language and adapt to the culture of a new territory, Rushkoff says we are all immigrants in the strange new territory called the 21st century, and the only way to survive is to start taking cues from the children. By seeing children as the models of the future rather than comparisons to the past, we can learn to adapt ourselves.As a society, we are moving at a high rate of change creating what appears to be chaos. Just as a mosh pit at a rave may look like complete confusion and frenzy, Rushkoff describes it as a way for the "children of chaos" to express themselves as individuals and also as a unified whole at the same time. So while it may look like the generational gap is growing between children eager to embrace the Internet and adults leery of its powers, Rushkoff argues it is all a matter of coping with a state of chaos."Without having migrated an inch, we have, nonetheless, traveled further than any generation in history." Rushkoff says of our technological journey. But even with more technological distractions around today that hasn't stopped screenagers from volunteering and working in social service more now, per capita, than at the height of the Peace Corps era in the late '60s, according to the author. Makes the term "Slacker" inaccurate, no matter how we may be remembered.

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