STORIES NOT YET TOLD
TODAY’S COLLEGE STUDENTS
ON BRINK OF ‘INTERESTING TIMES’
In a few weeks, I’m going to be giving a talk to a class of 18 college journalism students. That prospect has me thinking about the future that lies before them.
John F. Kennedy was president when I was the age these students are now, a figure as remote from their lives as Woodrow Wilson was from mine. We all lived under a dark nuclear cloud in the early ’60s, but there was a palpable spirit of optimism in the land. Perhaps that optimism was Kennedy’s contribution to those times, a youthful president who made intelligence fashionable and hope seem possible.
I don’t know these students I will soon meet, don’t know what it feels like to be 19 or 20 years old at the dawn of the 21st century, but if these students evade the diseases and dangers to which all flesh is heir, they will arrive at the age I am now some time around midcentury. Brad Pitt will be in his 80s, Britney Spears, in the unlikely event she survives, will be pushing 70. Ditto Amy Winehouse, Justin Timberlake, Paris Hilton, et al.
I will have passed from my own little scene, of course, and even my grown children will be nearing nature’s pull-date. Barack Obama will be almost 90. George W. Bush will have become little more than a bloodless picture in a history textbook, as remote to schoolchildren of 2050 as Lyndon Johnson is to today’s third-graders.
If the averages hold, the 18 students I will soon meet will have had in total something like 180 lovers by the time they reach my age. Their number of divorces probably will outnumber the students themselves.
By mid-century, the things they now covet and buy will be turning up as quaint collectibles in antique stores. Their high school yearbook photos will have provided more than a few chuckles – derisively from their children, empathetically from their friends.
The musicians now turning out the music defining this time will, in 40-some years, be launching paunchy reunion tours. By then, there will have been perhaps a half-dozen as-yet-to-be-revealed American presidents. The man or woman who will occupy the White House when these students are my age is even now struggling through elementary school, working out the intricacies of multiplication tables and the inconsistencies of spelling rules.
It’s impossible to estimate the number of wars the world will have seen between now and then, nor is it possible to guess how many will die in those wars, though it is as certain as sunrise that countless people as yet unborn will arrive in this world, grow to adulthood and perish in violent conflagrations before these journalism students reach my age.
By the time these 18 students reach mid-century, their own yet-to-be conceived children – a couple score of them – will be well into middle age. Barring disease or disaster on an unprecedented scale, the population of the planet will be around 9.4 billion people, a 30 percent increase in global overcrowding. That, of course, is a calamity in itself. Nearly everything necessary to sustain life will have become scarcer: food, potable water.
The children of these students will repeat all the traditional ways of trying their parents’ patience, and they will invent new variations on parental vexations as yet undreamed fashions and fads sure to exasperate these mothers-and fathers-to-be, just as they have done, or are doing, to their own parents.
Because these are journalism students I will be visiting, I wonder how the news will be gathered and disseminated when they reach my age. Will newspapers as we know them still be around? Will good writing hold much value after a few generations of text messaging and e-mails? Will men such as Edward R. Murrow be forgotten and men such as Bill O’Reilly remembered? Too soon to tell.
“It’s a curse to be born in interesting times,”
So the Chinese say.
In that light, they’re cursed, these college kids I’m going to see in a few weeks, just as my generation was cursed. Like us, these students will face challenges they have yet to imagine, challenges presented by fate, history and the peccadilloes of the powerful. I can only hope the stories they will cover and must live through will be interesting enough to provide them good copy, but not so interesting as to overwhelm them entirely.
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