Episode 2 Transcript
(Robert Lipsyte) Coming up on "Life (Part 2) ," what drives you crazy about young people? Their manners, their obsessive use of technology, whatever? We'll peer into what used to be called the generation gap. And later, a noted brain researcher on why all that texting might actually make your kids' brains different from yours. Plus Eric Kornfeld earns his living writing jokes for some of the biggest names in show business, but when it comes to aging, he sometimes thinks the joke's on him. All coming up on "Life (Part 2) ."
(woman) Major funding for "Life (Part 2) " was provided by The Atlantic Philanthropies-- engaging many to improve the lives of and achieve health and economic security for older adults. And by MetLife Foundation-- celebrating the wisdom, talent and experience of older adults. MetLife Foundation proudly supports "Life (Part 2) ." [bass, & plucked strings play in playful rhythm; bright in tone] Welcome to "Life (Part 2) ," I'm Robert Lipsyte, When you talk about kids today, do you sound eerily like your own parents, complaining about your rock 'n' roll? Intergenerational relations are a minefield of prejudices and misunderstandings, as we discovered when we took the issue to the street.
(man) I have an 18-year-old which is the last in the house of 3 children, and he's the one who's caused all this gray!
(man) There's just a different attitude now.
(teen boy) It's the job of every generation to kind of just push the limits of the generation before.
(man) Back in the day if I was caught cursing on the corner where I live, and one of my neighbors heard me, they'd just come and smack me in the back of the head.
(teen boy) Our manners are an expression of ourselves, you know. [piano plays in bright rhythm] ¦ (woman) Here I am paying an hourly wage and they will be texting and taking cell phone calls and socially networking the whole time. And I'm saying, "Hey, I'm not paying you to do this, this is like yakking with your friends over the counter. They're like, Oh no, no, no, I have to, I have to text them back.
(teen girl) If my boss doesn't tell me she's appreciating what I'm doing, it makes me feel undervalued.
(woman) My boss used to make me cry once a month, he would come in be like, "What are you doing? You're not doing this right, that's not what I told you." You're like, ah!
(teen girl) It's an element of jealousy.
(man) What are they jealous of?
(woman) I had one kid, would bring his laptop to work and network for better jobs while on my time.
(woman) My generation is better at multitasking.
(man) If you had 80% of the workforce with those issues, that have to be rectified and coddled, fire them and get the 20% that really want to work. ¦ (woman) My generation has a desire as a hyper-connection problem.
(woman) Because they spend so much time online, they don't learn about making eye contact while communicating.
(woman) It's a nice way to... Stay in touch with people.
(girl) 100% of my friends are on Facebook or MySpace. What's that? (man) Facebook? >> No, what is that? (boy) Instant gratification in terms of communication with your social group.
(boy) It's not really the technology that we're really engaging in, it's the person on the other side of that technology.
(man) These are technologies that have massive potential that are being used for inane purposes.
(boy) It's affecting my productivity negatively, to say the least. [laughs]
(man) What's with these kids? I mean, they can't pick up a telephone and call-- even if I'm paying for it!
(boy) I just think they should lighten up on our lives... …on our generation. ...they should be happy with what they've done and just let us be ourselves.
(man) Camall I love you, I truly do, and not matter what you do, I'll still love you. Give me a call, thank you! [laughs]
(Robert Lipsyte) As the therapists say, "I'm sensing some hostility." Here to help get us started on a talking cure are three savvy thinkers who take a rational approach to our sometimes irrational prejudices. Jane Adams is a social psychologist. Her books include, "I'm Still Your Mother, How to Get Along With Your Grown-up Children For the Rest of Your Life." Tamara Erickson is the author of "Plugged In, the Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work." She's also an online columnist for Harvard Business Press. J. Walker Smith is President of Yankelovich, the marketing research firm where the term Baby Boomer was coined in the early 1970's. He is the coauthor of "Generation Ageless," How Baby Boomers are Changing the Way We Live Today and They're Just Getting Started." Welcome all to "Life (Part 2) ." Walker, we start with the idea Boomer, X, Y, that these are 3 alien species that don't get along. But we know that they're children and grandchildren of each other. Could you give us a quick market anthropological overlook of these 3 groups, their similarities, their differences?
(J. Walker Smith) Sure, if you look at Baby Boomers, this is the group, the post-World War II fertility boom between 1946 and 1964. Their youth has always been a celebrated aspect of every part of their generational experience, and so youthfulness is probably the best way to think about Baby Boomers. Novelty, new experiences, breaking the rules, doing things differently, reinventing themselves constantly through life. They're followed then by the baby bust after the Baby Boom, this so-called Generation X, not a name they gave to themselves. This was kind of a name that Boomers gave to them in the late '80's and early 1990's. But really a generation that grew up with a very different formative experience. Savvy is much more the concept that describes their approach to life. And then you have the generation that we just saw a lot of, the 20-something's, the late teens today, Generation Y, the Millennials, this is a generation that is much more focused on authenticity, Real genuine experiences, getting beyond all the hype. So they come at life in very different ways. It creates these kinds of conflicts. I think it's a lot of misunderstanding that we see. We listen to these Baby Boomers, they're almost talking as if they're-- are their parents, talking about them when they were coming of age.
(Jane Adams) The Boomers themselves grew up in a time of an expanding economy and they felt lucky and privileged. Their kids, on the other hand, feel entitled. And there's more than just a semantic difference between feeling privileged and feeling entitled. I think that sense of entitlement is at the heart of a lot of the conflict between these two generations.
(Robert Lipsyte) Let's see how it works. Tammy, a Boomer--this is not a joke--a Boomer, an Xer and a Y walk into a widget factory and the idea is to create the new sniff-and-touch widget. Do they approach the problem differently?
(Tamara Erickson) Absolutely, the other thing about Boomers, when they were growing up, of course, is they were basically surrounded by a huge number of other Boomers. So Boomers have squeezed through a keyhole in life that was pretty small. A lot of Boomers went to high school in temporary buildings out behind the main building because there weren't enough classrooms. Boomers have kind of a mental mindset that says, we're playing musical chairs, there aren't enough seats, so I have to run fast. So a Boomer would approach your challenge by thinking about how can I win? How can I develop one that's going to set me apart and move me ahead? The Xer is self-reliant, and so they're going to be thinking about what if this doesn't pan out, do I have another job offer, do I have another option that I could move to if this one's not going to be successful? If you jump to the Ys on the other hand, they're much more used to reaching out to lots of people, so they'd solicit input from what do you think, what do you think? And gather that input in as they start to formulate their plan.
(Robert Lipsyte) Now, this sounds insoluble, I'm bankrupting the widget company right now! [laughter] But is there something valuable in these 3 approaches? I mean, can it be put to work?
(Tamara Erickson) Yes, absolutely, I think it can be put to work. I think what it requires is for each of us to kind of let go of the negative prejudice and recognize the good things that each one can bring.
(J. Walker Smith) But one of the things that has certainly changed between these generations, and you see this when you talk to them, is that Baby Boomers really sort of pioneered this focus on myself. And so there was a decline in all sorts of community organizations and community interests that paralleled the rise of Baby Boomers in American society. What you see with Gen X and with the Millennials or the Y generation, is much more of a focus on connection and engagement. So they are interested in their parents, they are interested in social networking kinds of technologies. Boomers are now coming back to this.
(Robert Lipsyte) What's an example of that, something that was lost and found?
(J. Walker Smith) Well, interest in family. If you were to ask Baby Boomers, as we did, way back in the 1970's as the early Boomers were getting into their late 20's and early 30's, and we asked them, how important are various kinds of things as life priorities, family would be down on the list. It would be below self-improvement, it would be below work. Now you look at Gen X in their 30's, they're now in the stage of household formation, and family is at the absolute top of their list. They are unwilling to make the kind of sacrifices to family that Boomers were willing to make in order to advance their careers.
(Robert Lipsyte) I can see that in my kids, yeah.
(Jane Adams) Boomers were not willing to make the sacrifice that a previous generation did.
(J. Walker Smith) That's exactly right; Boomers were much more self-focused.
(Jane Adams) We as Boomers were influenced by our World War II generation, Depression-era parents, who only wanted for us that we be economically secure. Our happiness was not a major issue for them. But for our kids, our value for them was not that they be economically secure because we just assumed, since we grew up in an expanding economy, we assumed that they would be okay.
(Robert Lipsyte) I think we have promised the audience some therapeutic tips, so anybody got any kind of nice little things you can do when you go to my widget factory tomorrow?
(Tamara Erickson) One of the things, when I work with a senior executive, who's complaining about a Y who's driving him or her crazy, usually the easiest thing I say is, "Do you have any children?" And the minute I say that, the person goes, "Oh yeah!" Because it suddenly clicks that what they're complaining about is the exact behavior that they have not only probably tolerated, but encouraged in the home. So they've encouraged their children to speak up, to question authority, to take what they can, not be shy.
(Robert Lipsyte) Serves them right. Exactly! Your kids are here.
(Jane Adams) I have some therapy to suggest in the family. I find that Boomers, because we're so used to knowing everything, don't ask enough questions of kids about what their world is like. I, thanks to one of my kids, just got a Facebook page, something I thought had nothing to do with me or my generation, and suddenly, I'm being contacted by people I went to grade school with, which is kind of fun, that they're there too. There's a whole world out there that we tend not to see because we either don't want to give up what little bit of authority we by now claim, or because we don't think there's anything we can learn.
(Robert Lipsyte) Do Boomers think of themselves ever as old? You talk so much about this need to be youthful?
(J. Walker Smith) Well, youthful is kind of a state of mind. Boomers certainly know they're getting old. They just want to approach a-- or "older," that's right. They just want to approach age with a more youthful spirit. So it is about breaking the rules and reinventing themselves going forward. We interviewed Boomers back in '96 when they were first turning 50, the leading edge was first turning 50, and we asked them the age at which old age starts. And the answer for the beginning of old age, the average answer was 79-1/2. Now in 1996, the average life span in America was 76.1. So Boomers didn't even think they were going to start to get old until 3 years after they had died! So Boomers are getting older, they are dealing with all the physical and lifestyle changes, but they want to approach this in a youthful way.
(Robert Lipsyte) And camping forever on the River Denial. [laughter] Thank you so much for joining us on "Life (Part 2) ."
(Robert Lipsyte) Now that we understand young people a lot better, and we're all feeling a lot more open and tolerant, let's get to a nagging question, are kids today just different from us? Has growing up with the Internet, cell phones, video games and text messaging affected the way their brains work? According to Dr. Gary Small, the answer might be yes. Dr. Small is a Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UCLA. His latest book is the provocative, "iBrain"... Dr. Small, welcome to "Life (Part 2) ." So Boomers think that kids and kids think that Boomers think differently. Do they?
(Gary Small) I think they do. We have two generations now, different from any previous decade before us. We have the digital immigrants who have come to the technology more reluctantly later in life, and we have the younger digital natives who grow up with this stuff, they're multitasking; they're very talented at using the technology. Their brains, I think, are wiring differently as a result of that. And they're spending less time with human contact skills, face-to-face conversation. So instead of the traditional generation gap, we have what I call "the brain gap," and the solution is to try to upgrade the tech skills of the digital immigrants and help the digital natives with their human contact skills.
(Robert Lipsyte) Let me stop you for just a moment. This is not the first time in history that there have been cosmic changes. The automobile, the telephone, television, this also changed the way people behaved and thought and acted.
(Gary Small) I think my grandmother told me that television would rot my brain, so there's always these concerns about technological innovations.
(Robert Lispyte) You're saying that it didn't and...
(Gary Small) I think the brain is actually quite resilient and we do survive these changes. But I think there's something very different today. A couple of differences. First is the intensity of the exposure. We know that the brain is a very sensitive organ to any kind of stimulation. The average young person spends nearly 9 hours a day with the new technology. Today we have new gadgets every few months and the young digital natives love it. They're adopting this new technology at a breakneck pace. The immigrants are slower to adopt it. And the science is backing up the idea that it is having both positive and negative effects. For example, there was a recent study that found that when young people played a violent video game, their ability to recognize the emotional expression of a face was impaired.
(Robert Lipsyte) Do you think that technology could retard empathy?
(Gary Small) I have concerns about that. We know that the developing brain is not really as good at making decisions, at judgment, as say a middle-aged brain. In fact, adolescents, their frontal lobe skills are not fully developed and so their ability to understand another person's emotional context is not the same as a middle-aged person. So the question is, how will their brains develop if they're spending all this time with technology and not learning face-to-face human contact, not learning empathy?
(Robert Lipsyte) What about addiction, is there an addiction?
(Gary Small) There's a big problem with addiction. There are young teenagers who can't stop with their video games. There are even adults who get hooked on these virtual games like "Second Life." They're spending 14 hours a day interacting in a virtual environment where they have an avatar that represents them interacting with other avatars.
(Robert Lipsyte) I get criticized a lot because I turn my cell phone off or my computer off for some peace and quiet. It seems that there is a trade off to have this access. There's no escape, 24/7, you are at beck and call.
(Gary Small) It's so important to go off-line periodically, systematically. Because what happens is, we get into a state of partial continuous attention. We're always scanning the environment, waiting for that next text message or email that seems important to us. And it's exciting; it lures us, we want to do that, yet, I think it's stressful. It puts our brains in a state of heightened stress. We know when we're under stress our body secretes cortisol, which can literally shrink the memory centers of the brain. So we want to take breaks, and we want to go off-line as much as possible.
(Robert Lipsyte) This has real effect on your brain as well as other parts of your system.
(Gary Small) It's your brain, your body, and I think we need to be mindful of it and really think about how much time we're connected. I mean, it gives us a great sense of power because we're so connected.
(Robert Lipsyte) And importance, I mean, people need us. The constant cell phone talking on the street that you see.
(Gary Small) It's something that often defines how we feel about ourselves. I think this is particularly true about young people. Their sense of self-esteem is defined by the number of friends on their Facebook.
(Robert Lipsyte) It seems to me it's the kids that could be in deep trouble. Somehow I get the fact that the Boomers are going to integrate as much technology as they want into their lives. Does that make sense?
(Gary Small) Well, I think to some extent, the Boomers have an advantage because they grew up in a time where they were learning how to communicate face-to-face. They had that opportunity. But many digital immigrants are struggling with similar kinds of issues as the digital natives, that they're getting too much technology in their lives. It's interfering with their family lives and it's becoming a problem for them as well. They can get addicted to the technology just as much as a digital native can.
(Robert Lipsyte) In a larger philosophical way, do you think that the way that young people are thinking because of technology is going to lead this world into some other place that, for better or worse, than it is now?
(Gary Small) I think it is; I think with the Internet it's wonderful that we can get all this information instantaneously, but it does affect how we feel about ourselves, and about the world. There's no more delayed gratification. You just immediately go online and you get your answer right away. There's a staccato quality to gathering and processing information. So even though we have breadth of information, I think we're sacrificing depth. We don't sit down and think about ideas and get into them in a lot of detail.
(Robert Lipsyte) But as it was, as things were invented-- air-conditioning, refrigeration, there's always the ideal that now we would have more time for romantic dinners and thought. That's not working out, is it?
(Gary Small) It's a myth, it is a myth, because what happens is, we become more efficient and we naturally want to do more and more and more. So I recently spoke to some computer programmers and they were complaining that their customers always want a stronger and faster search engine. It made me think that it's just human nature that in a way the technology is adapting to what the brain wants. It wants more and more, and we're always going to seek that.
(Robert Lipsyte) Dr. Gary Small, I'm so glad we did this the old-fashioned way, face-to-face, thank you so much for joining us on "Life (Part 2) ." Thank you Robert, if I have any questions, I'll text you! [Robert laughs]
(Robert Lipsyte) Eric Kornfeld is a former stand-up comic who these days makes his living as a comedy writer. His latest project is Bette Midler's live stage show "The Show Girl Must Go On" at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. But his life isn't all about jokes and glamour. Most of the time, he's just a regular Baby Boomer caught in a very ironic generational tug of war.
(Eric Kornfeld) By the time one reaches middle age, it's very important to have a group or an organization that you just can't stand. It helps ease the bitterness that starts creeping in after age 35, when most people realize they blew it and will never have the life they dreamed of. Having a group of people to complain about gives you somebody to blame. I personally have two sectors of the population I like to blame. I'm too old to be in the first group, teenagers, and too young to be in the second, senior citizens. It's a dilemma. Now, my two daughters, with whom I spend a lot of time, are teenagers and therefore, they judge me constantly. They tell me I'm really lame. Can I just say "lame" is our word from the '70s? [imitates a teen] You can't mock us with our lingo, okay? But back to my dilemma. Just when I decide that nothing could be more annoying than teenagers, I find myself at the A&P, getting hamburger buns, on Labor Day, when all good Americans are hosting a picnic. There are like, 2 billion people lined up to pay, so I go to the self-checkout, which also had a lot of people, but I knew it would be faster. Until this 90-something-year-old guy comes by with one plastic container of raspberries, walks past the waiting people, walks past the line, goes right up to the scanner, where it became obvious he would never master the self-checkout process. I watch him take out his wallet, remove every card in it and hold each card up to the scanner as though it might guess what he's buying. Now he starts demanding assistance, and I start thinking, hey, buddy, this is self-checkout, there is no assistance, you want the luxury of human assistance, you stand in the longer line. Well, finally he's got his fist up to the scanner, he's threatening it; he's calling the scanner names. Now the lone employee in the self-checkout area actually steps away from her podium. She ignores the rules, she ignores the line, and she does his checkout! But instead of being mad, I felt kind of sorry for the guy. That could be me in 45 years. I mean if the world doesn't melt first! Suddenly, I'm next. I race to checkout station number 3 as soon as it becomes available because I'm going to prove to the line that I'm fast. I scan the buns, I press pay, I quickly punch in the necessary numbers, and then I wait, and I wait, and I press something else, and then the screen goes dark, and a list of 4 numbers I've never seen come up, and I get all flustered, and I press something else and something else, then the dreaded "Wait for Assistance" message comes up. I look back at the line, I could see the headphone-wearing kid in the Green Day t-shirt; he was rolling his eyes behind his sunglasses. I search madly, but the checkout lady was nowhere to be found. I raised my hands in that, "what do I do now" look, the kid with the headphone shouts, "It's asking if you want cash back, just press none!" I did and suddenly out comes my receipt. I was so happy I said "Thanks," and I rushed to the door. Then the kid yells, "Hey Mister, don't forget your hamburger buns," which were next to the scanner. I returned, got the buns, and fled. That was a fast 45 years!
(Robert Lipsyte) Yes Eric, those years do go by very quickly, but at least you got your buns. For now, that's it for "Life (Part 2) ." I'm Robert Lipsyte, thanks for watching. See you next time, older and better.
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