Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Kids Today (or "I don't know about you, but I'm feeling 22")
Friends who are not law professors are under the mistaken impression that since I spend so much time with law students, I must feel young and hip. To the contrary, I find that each passing year highlights in clearer relief the true generation gap between the fresh new 1Ls and myself. In case you too are wondering why it is sometimes hard to connect culturally to today’s “Millennial” students, here’s a little bit of info about the personal cultural context of a typical 1L, starting law school this month. For sake of this fact-based hypothetical, we’ll call her the “reasonable law student” (RLS) and assume that she is 22 years old.
- World/National Events Context:
- Childhood: RLS was born in 1993, the year that Czechoslovakia broke apart, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court, and Bill Clinton instituted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for homosexuality in the military. When RLS was 2, her parents watched the OJ Simpson trial and the Oklahoma City bombing on TV. RLS started kindergarten in 1998, just as the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was winding down (and 4-year-old RLS had probably been kept in the dark about the finer points of Clinton’s “relations” with “that woman”). RLS has no memory of any Y2K worries, since these were all proven to be for naught by the time she turned 7. RLS may not have even noticed the terrorist attacks of September 11th – after all, she was only 8 at the time. Her parents may have lost a bundle from the Enron bankruptcy or the dotcom bubble/bust, but this happened when RLS was just 9. Gay marriage began to be legalized by states (starting with MA) when RLS was 11.
- Teenage Years: As a 15-year-old, RLS may have been vaguely aware of the Foreclosure/Financial Crises, and she likely remembers when Barack Obama was sworn in as President when she was 16. Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011, the year that RLS graduated from high school. The Sandy Hook school shootings occurred while RLS was in college, in 2012.
- Technology: RLS has never known a world without full use of the Internet and cannot fathom life without click-of-a-button access to unlimited information (reliable and otherwise). Thus, RLS never has had to dig hard and do tedious research to find out the answer to a nagging question (like, “Where have I seen that actor from Mr. Robot before?” Answer -- in case you were wondering -- is that I previously saw Rami Malek in both the movie Night at the Museum and in the TV series 24. And, yes, I just took 10 seconds to look that up. You’re welcome.) What a lifetime of having instantaneous, effortless answers to one’s questions does to one’s approach to the study and research of law is a question open to debate. (Discuss.)
With the Internet as their baseline reality, not only do RLS and her peers lack experience in spending significant time wondering about and questing after unknown facts, but they are also quite used to the public disclosure and discourse of private details of everyone’s life. They’re also used to enhanced government surveillance of its citizens, the Patriot Act, and invasive airport searches by TSA.
RLS has a vocabulary and life experience that equates with being born in the Internet age, and she is adept at all sorts of social media. She is used to everyone being available 24/7 and immediate responses to her calls, emails, and texts. RLS has always been able to shop online and have instant access to new software, music, and videos downloaded directly (so much for “shrinkwrap”).
- Assumption of Risk? During RLS’s entire life, her parents and the state have mandated that she stay safe by being car-seated, buckled up, and helmeted on a bike.
- Negotiable Instruments? RLS doesn’t use cash or checks to make purchases. She has always used a plastic card (debit or credit) or her phone to pay for things (maybe she’s even experimented with digital currencies).
- Environmental Law? RLS grew up worrying about the environment and global warming. For RLS, there have always been hybrid cars, wind farms, and solar panels on buildings and in fields.
- Labor Law? For RLS, the only significant labor disputes have been professional sports-related.
- International Law? In RLS’s experience and memory:
- Prisoners have always been housed at Guantanamo Bay.
- There has never been Apartheid in South Africa.
- The countries of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia exist only in history books.
- Hong Kong has always been part of China.
- It was Pres. George W. Bush (not his father) who sent troops to Iraq.
- The currency in Europe has always been the euro.
- Health Law? Cloning has always been a scientific reality. AIDS has always been a problem, but HIV-positive hasn’t been an immediate death sentence (in the US, at least). Adults have been debating the role that the government should have in providing public health insurance since her birth.
- Pop Culture Context: For RLS,
- It has never been a big deal to see women kissing women and men kissing men on television.
- The term “wardrobe malfunction” has been widely understood since RLS was 10.
- Ellen and Oprah have always been first-name-only TV talk show hosts.
- Michael Jackson was an embattled recluse defending against accusations of molestation until he died (when RLS was 15)
- The “Royal Wedding” was when Kate Middleton married Prince William (RLS probably watched this - when she was 18).
RLS likely learned to read with the Harry Potter series, the first of which was published when she was 3 and the last when she was 14 (meaning she never had to wait to read the sequel and she may have even – gasp – seen the movies first!). RLS probably spent her teenage years reading the Twilight series and The Hunger Games. As a teen, she listened to Taylor Swift, Adele, One Direction, Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and The Black Eyed Peas.
As for television show references, don’t bother talking about Seinfeld or Friends in class – those shows went off the air when RLS was age 4 and 10, respectively. Reality TV is her norm. For RLS, Survivor and American Idol have always been on TV. If you’re seeking some common ground, remember that RLS likely has spent time watching one or more of these shows: Game of Thrones, Suits, Homeland, Scandal, CSI, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, Parks & Recreation, Glee, Pretty Little Liars, Sherlock, and Downton Abbey – but of course, she was watching them in high school!
Do you feel old yet?
Or are you “Feeling 22” too?
It's even worse for older law students, especially those older than an appreciable proportion of their 1L instructors (not just Legal Writing — this was the early 1990s). They don't get Cohen v. California or FCC v. Pacifica Foundation; the sterility of the opinions — even Cohen, with its shock horror phoneme fricative in a government document! — further insulates the context. And the less said about Snepp, the better...
Posted by: C.E. Petit | Aug 12, 2015 12:00:08 PM
You think you feel old? My younger child is now a year older than RLS. So I'm losing even the connection with my students that I had through my kids.
Posted by: Suzanna Sherry | Aug 12, 2015 11:34:32 AM
FWIW, here is the new Beloit "Mindset List."
Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Aug 11, 2015 10:19:36 PM
True that "RLS" is presumptively upper-middle class (with all the bells & whistles of technology that goes with that) - and experiences of course vary. I, for one, take heart that the Financial Crisis and the 9/11 attaches were defining events and helped frame your world view - but I have talked to students who cannot really recall either from their own awareness (maybe those 4 years difference in age were key!). I'm not saying that RLS is not experienced, just that her experience is different than others who are older who had other childhood realities. JFK's assassination, for example, has a completely different meaning to me than to my mother.
Posted by: Andrea Boyack | Aug 11, 2015 7:16:29 PM
As a law student only four years older than RLS (hence "unreasonable law student"), this isn't really accurate for a lot of us "millenials".
"With the Internet as their baseline reality, not only do RLS and her peers lack experience in spending significant time wondering about and questing after unknown facts, but they are also quite used to the public disclosure and discourse of private details of everyone’s life... RLS has always been able to shop online and have instant access to new software, music, and videos downloaded directly (so much for “shrinkwrap”)."
As demi-poors, we got our first computer in the early-/mid-2000s; my friends weren't on facebook until 2006 or so. And keep in mind that home computers then were less of the laptop variety and more of the 56k modem variety. Online shopping wasn't ubiquitous until they solved the shipping problem, and digital delivery was something most content providers resisted for well past prudence.
"RLS may not have even noticed the terrorist attacks of September 11th... As a 15-year-old, RLS may have been vaguely aware of the Foreclosure/Financial Crises..."
I think I draw the opposite conclusion here. Both events were childhood- and teenagedom-defining events, for us--if anything, we're more cognizant of the frailty of the American empire than previous generations. I've found, in conversations with my family and others of their generation, that my generation is much more sensitive to the difficulty of our job market--especially the legal job market--compared to that of our parents. Perhaps this particular generational gap law professors should seek to narrow.
Posted by: URLS | Aug 11, 2015 6:22:35 PM
How about I bought the sweatshirt I’m wearing the year RLS was born? And it has yet to see its best years.
Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Aug 11, 2015 4:00:49 PM
Yep, your post makes me feel older. Now you need to post something to make me feel wiser!
Posted by: Margaret Ryznar | Aug 11, 2015 3:34:08 PM