In many ways the children of the internet generation (Millenials) have grown up competing to be best informed, most accurate, or most influential in a free and open marketplace of ideas enabled by technology and largely still out of reach of censorship and regulation. One only has to browse an internet discussion board to see what a lively and colorful discourse there is on any topic. (With equal parts brilliance and vitriol, but we will come back to that.)

Given that this is the paradigm they are familiar with, I am confident in the potential of future generations to craft a similarly productive atmosphere for this country… if they just realize that it is theirs for the making; because even when we’re arguing on the internet we are coming collectively closer to the truth by challenging shaky arguments, calling out fallacies, and -ideally- refining our own arguments. People are outspoken about their opinions and are generally less afraid of being wrong, since being wrong is just correcting a misapprehension. No one wants to look like a n00b, and I think voters will soon desire the same kind of instant accountability in politics (or whatever ends up replacing politics as we know it, since the behemoth of government in its current incarnation moves too slowly to keep up with culture in the digital age).

The lines between “culture” and “counterculture” are disappearing as people realize there is no culture, just a collection of subcultures- and most of them are perfectly peaceful even if you don’t agree with them. As such, the Millenials are the most tolerant generation in history, as reported by the Chicago Tribune here. Racial and cultural differences aren’t so scary when the mystery surrounding them evaporates with one tweet to your friend in Kenya or Brazil or Thailand, or one post on a Muslim discussion forum. Support for ending the drug war and pardoning non-violent convicts, as another example, is also very high among young voters and is starting to become a talking point on the campaign trail- a positive one this time. Millenials are beginning to expose the fact that such topics are often used by the two parties to divide us over bogus individual rights issues while they and their cronies plunder the economy and the planet- and they’ve been doing it for decades.

But as the Chicago Tribune article is careful to point out, this constant flood of new and exciting information is not without its societal dangers. The same anonymous aspect of the internet that makes it so easy to be outspoken can also easily make one insensitive. The article states:

Previous generations typically were forced to speak directly to someone, even if it was on the phone, or perhaps write a note or letter to the person they had an issue with, Kyp-Johnson said. With texting and social networks, “it’s all at your fingertips and it’s instantaneous.” And, with a couple of keystrokes, venomous attacks can spread to thousands of people.

While the internet can deliver volumes of information instantly, they can’t help a developing mind understand how best to use the information, how to deliver it sensitively to their peers, or how to use it in an ethical and equitable manner. This is where we as a society need to step up to the challenge of raising children who are emotionally well-equipped to deal with the power they gain as a result of the ubiquity of communication technology. (Diagnosing childhood energy as a disease, feeding kids full of pills, putting police in their school hallways, and teaching them to be order-takers and politically dogmatic workers hasn’t been successful.) Unfortunately, the systems we currently have in place were created for a very different world without Information Technology as we know it, and those systems may not know the things it needs to teach these kids.

Perhaps Jay Kyp-Johnson said it best in the same article:

“I think our kids maintain really well, but they definitely need people mentoring them. The whole world is so much more multicultural and multifaceted than it used to be. They have to have the tools to deal with so much more.”

Is America ready to provide the children these tools, or will they have to create them for themselves? What will we leave them? Empowerment or hopelessness? Abundance or debt?

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