Wendy Grossman has an interesting net.wars column up, Car talk, in which she expands on a CNBC suggestion that the Internet displaces the car:
… today's young people find their independence differently: through their cell phones and the Internet. … As children, many baby boomers shared bedrooms with siblings. Use of the family phone was often restricted. The home was most emphatically not a place where a young adult could expect any privacy.
Today, kids go out less, first because their parents worry about their safety, later because their friends and social lives are on tap from the individual bedrooms they now tend to have. And even if they have to share the family computer and use it in a well-trafficked location, they can carve themselves out a private space inside their phones, by text if not by voice.
That rings true: I had put down our eldest's seeming lack of enthusiasm for getting a driving license to his taste for being chauffeured — beats walking to the parking spot. But maybe it's the times and the PC in his room.
It’s an interesting point, however I think it says far more about the differences in todays kids than our generation than has been expressed.
Note the casual reference to siblings sharing a bedroom. When I was a kid, that was just the norm. Your parents were not going to buy 4 bedroom houses and two or three phonelines just to accomodate the personal privacy needs of some kid. Life just didn’t work that way. Every siblinged friend I knew shared a bedroom with his brothers, or her sisters. That was just normal then, however it is extremely rare among those in the middle class who have multiple kids today it seems. And as for having one phone line – you never see it – though now the second, third, etc. lines are cell phones.
As for the car thing… One could make the observation that kids just don’t play free outside anymore to the extent that I (we) did. But for various reasons we didn’t have oodles of organized activities everywhere and parents who were sure we’d wind up in sex slavery in Belgium if we were out of sight for more than a second. So we were out and about, doing God knows what unsafe stuff, and (most importantly) learning about the world itself. I don’t think one can ignore the import of kid exploration. We learned to be curious about the world, and what would happen if…
So naturally, when car time came around, we wanted a car more than anything. And we were even willing to *gasp* work for it. For many of us, mommy and daddy were not coming to the rescue on that, or most anything else in our little secret world of adventure, so we didn’t think of our parents as the center of every financial issue. We’d beg for money, but since parents were still parents in those days, they’d say no at some point, offer to let us work for it, and that’s what we did. And if one kid in five of us had a car, well we could fit five in a car…
Now, parents load up their kids with technology of one sort or another, take them off to organized activities, and don’t make them share much of anything with anybody they don’t like. And if they get bored, there’s 500 channels on the TV and millions of virtual friends who are apparently just as bored willing to tweet with them (or whatever). Today’s over-protective parent will spend a grand on a computer for their kid without even thinking about it, but a grand for a car…
In short, I don’t think many kids today learn to be curious about anything, see any reason to go outside unless they have to, or see themselves as the source of anything around them. We raise them to live alone in their little personalized and enclosed worlds where their day is controlled by others, not themselves. So naturally, when car time rolls around, many just figure “why?” It’s about as useful as a sewing machine to them.
My soon to be 18 year old daughter does not have a drivers license, and she doesn’t seem to worry about it – as long as she can get a ride to the sometimes odd places she needs to go. She’s in college now, so maybe I’ll push her to take a driver training course when she comes home for the summer.
I am part of the last wave of people born in this country prior to the massive change in the way children play: I was born in ’79… while the Internet and video games were available to me as a youth, they had not really taken hold of the imagination…we still payed out doors every day, I took my driver’s test on my 16th birthday, I had a BB gun, I didn’t have a cell phone until I was in my 20’s, etc.
I can easily imagine that, had I been born 10 years later, I would not be all the interested in driving. I see it in my yonger brothers.
Driving was my ticket to “adult” freedom. When I walked out the door, I was gone. Done. Good bye.
Now, mom and dad have convinced kids to carry cell phones. Many of these phones have GPS devices on them that allow parents to track kids. Parents can immediately reach their children anywhere. If the kids don’t pick up, their will be hell to pay (or at least that’s the theory). If the kids do pick up, mom and dad have instantly curbed freedom just by being able to reach them.
The flip side of that of course is wired (or wirelss as the case may be) interaction, and save the actual trip out of the house for when it really counts.
Why get a car? Mom and dad will know where you are anyways. Just have them take you.
We didn’t WANT our parents having any idea where we were, even if it was 100% innocent behavior. And if it wasn’t…
Seriously, I didn’t know ANYBODY that didn’t want a car ASAP. I couldn’t even imagine knowing a kid back then who didn’t want one. Maybe kids in NYC, or something, but out in the rest of the world, you wanted a car and you generally wanted complete freedom from your parents. Getting dropped off somewhere by your mom was the utter height of uncool (barring actually having your mom PARTICIPATE in your activity!). And if you were in before dark in the summer months – well that just didn’t happen.
And I didn’t know one kid who was killed, seriously injured (maybe the occassional broken limb), got into serious trouble with the law, got anybody pregnant, or did anything really bad beyond smoking some grass or having a beer or something. I take that back – we did accidentally derail a train once, but nobody got hurt and it was just a hassle in the end for the people who had to put it back on the track. But we didn’t spend hours of our days on a computer seeing OTHER PEOPLE’S work, we DID what we wanted to do. Those were the days…
Now I imagine most fun things either get you arrested, or taken away from your clearly irresponsible parents.
(Remember when you didn’t want to leave somewhere? Your parents would just get into their car and drive away. When they came back in 10 or 15 minutes, you were more than happy to leave with them. Do that now and some little TV-schooled geek will call child services on you…)