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Spencer Rendahl: Generation Z

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http://www.vpr.net//audio/programs/56/1969/12/SPEN-031713.mp3

(Host) And now we turn to our Sunday Essay. Thanks to social and technological changes, every generation sees the world through fresh eyes. Writer Suzanne Spencer Rendahl examines the unique shifts her children are experiencing as members of so-called Generation Z.

(Spencer Rendahl) A few months ago, my seven-year-old daughter asked me Who is Elvis? He was a famous singer, I replied. He sang from the fifties until the late seventies, when Momma was a girl like you. She furrowed her brow in concentration, and I waited for her standard follow-up question. Finally, she demanded: Which century?

I caught my breath, answered, and began wondering about the divide between my kids' post-Y2K generation - called Generation Z - and previous ones.

Of course, every older generation ponders and often bemoans the younger generation's newfangled and perhaps not-as-wholesome ways, but this divide seems bigger. First, there's technology. My kids will probably never use a typewriter or a camera with film. My daughter knows that Momma's phone has her address book, calendar, record collection, photo album, navigator, newspaper, weather report and camera. She'll probably never use a physical phonebook or encyclopedia; we look things up on a laptop or - yes - Momma's phone. My kids may be part of the last generation to read from printed books; more and more of her friends are reading on tablets.

I had been looking forward to watching the inauguration live with my daughter, since we both had the day off. Then she got invited to a birthday party during the ceremony. I asked her if she wanted go to the party or stay home and watch the inauguration with me. No pressure. Her brow furrowed. Can I watch it on the computer later? she asked. She had her birthday cake and watched history later.

Generation Z also inhabits a new social and environmental landscape. When my daughter announced that she wanted to marry her best girlfriend when she grows up, I told her that she can in much of New England. In addition to spending the majority of her life with an African American president,she became so used to thinking of the Secretary of State as a woman's job that she expressed shock that we have a new one named John. On the other hand, we rarely talk about the weather without also discussing climate change, for her a lifelong reality.

When I wonder what else my kids will see in the coming century, I think of my mother's mother, born in 1914, the daughter of German immigrants who settled in Missouri. She lived through the Dust Bowl and World War II, watched the twin World Trade Center towers rise into the sky in the late 1960s and early 70s, and then sat on her living room couch and watched them crash to the ground on her television a few years before she died. My daughter will only know those buildings from pictures; we'll see the memorial together for the first time this spring.

My daughter recently informed me that if she lives to be 95, she'll get to see the next century. If I live to 130, I will too, I replied. But I didn't have the heart to tell her I'm not sure I want to.