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Kids today… they don’t have to UN-learn anything.

Clay Shirky is an author, a professor, and unarguably one of the smartest people alive when it comes to analyzing the internet and how it is impacting our cultures. Here is a snippet of a recent (12/19/08) interview he gave to The Columbia Journalism Review.

RJ: So, is this just a generational thing? That younger people have come up using these filters and these technologies and they love it and the older generation is just kind of scared?

CS: Yeah, that’s certainly part of it. I mean, the thing that people say about young people is just that they understand the technology so well. Well, I teach in a graduate program, I see twenty-five-year-olds all the time. They actually don’t understand the technology particularly well. I think I understand quite a lot of it quite a bit better than they do, which is the reason why I’m teaching there and they’re students. The advantage they have over me is that they don’t have to unlearn anything. They don’t have to unlearn the idea that a card catalog is a helpful thing to have. That you need a librarian to find things. That you have to figure out where you’re looking before you what you’re looking for. None of those things are true anymore. And so one of the problems that old people like me suffer from is just we know too many solutions for problems that no longer exist. And it kind of freaks us out to realize that all the things we mastered don’t really add up to much value anymore.

It’s not so much that young people are smart and old people are scared. It’s that young people don’t have to unlearn all the stuff that old people do have to unlearn if we want to understand this world. And unlearning is just about the least fun activity in the world. So, you know, it’s easy to understand why people don’t want to sign up for it. But it’s also kind of pathetic that the people going around talking about information overload don’t stop to factor in the idea that if the twenty-year-olds aren’t complaining about information overload, it probably isn’t the problem we think it is.

RJ: It almost sounds like the framework that you’re providing for this is one of existential angst among these older people who have lost their footing, or their ground in the ..

CS: I mean, we’ll be dead and then it won’t matter.

RJ: That’s great.

CS: I mean, really, I’m just so impatient with the argument that the world should be slowed down to help people who aren’t smart enough to understand what’s going on. It’s in part because I grew up in a generation that benefited enormously from not doing that. Right? The baby boomers, when we were young, we had zero, zero patience for the idea that people who are in their fifties in the ’70s and ’80s should somehow be shielded from cultural changes because somehow the stuff that we were doing was upsetting them. So, now it’s our turn and we ought to just suck it up.

LINK: Interview with Clay Shirky, Part I : CJR.

Posted in Quotes.