SBJ/June 23-29, 2014/People and Pop Culture

Don Marinelli, Carnegie Mellon University

A drama professor who saw the coming of an interactive revolution talks about what millennials expect, the ‘deistic principles’ that characterize them, and why doing things the old way won’t reach them

I n the mid-90s,
I had a great life running Carnegie Mellon drama traveling the country auditioning young people who wanted to pursue the dream of becoming an actor.

There was a group of young people and I said, “Let’s play a game,” because I was getting a very strange vibe. … “It is Friday night, money is no object, how many of you on your own volition will go see live theater?” and maybe 25 to 30 percent of the hands went up.

I said, “All right, how many of you would go to [the] cinema? More hands went up. Then the pièce de résistance. “How many of you would prefer to order two supreme pizzas from Domino’s, a case of beer and sit at home playing video games,” and practically every hand went up.

I thought there has been a revolution occurring right in front of us, and we seem to have two options. We’re either going to go with it or we’re going to become those old-fart professors who say, “Young people today just don’t appreciate the theater the way we do.”

One of the greatest revelations to me is that when I look out at these young people I see the kind of person I wanted to be when we were that revolutionary generation rebelling against the structure of post-war America.

They are a technophile generation. What does technophile mean? A love, desire, interest in technology. How many of you can’t live without your phone? You’re dinosaurs. They are so far beyond us now and if we’re wise, we’re taking a look at what technology they are subsumed with.

They view technology as a procedural medium. It is a procedural medium that facilities participation.

Nothing will indicate how old you are [more than] if you see your kid on the phone and you’re thinking, “This kid is just enamored with the phone.” You missed the point.

The phone is a means to an end. I’m 61 years old and I might have, after all these years of life, five close friends. My daughter is 27. She must have 1,500 friends and she is in touch with them.

The idea that they are somehow antisocial is our own myopia creeping up. You have to realize that technology is a procedural medium that affords the pleasure of agency. … What does agency mean? Agency is a geek term that says empowerment.

Why do you think video games are now a much bigger entertainment than movies and television combined? Because of interactivity, because of agency. Agency means what? You make a decision through technology and the world responds to you.

The world I grew up with, the closest we got to that was called voting.

I call it the deistic principles. They are omnipresent. They are online all the time. They are omniscient. We call it Wikipedia. It’s omnipresent in the sense that it’s Wi-Fi connectivity.

We’re saying to them, “by the way, class is Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 1:00 to 1:50.” No wonder they’re laughing at us.

No wonder online education is now so infringing upon traditional education that all the colleges and universities are running scared and I’m like, “Run scared. Please do run scared.” The model we have is not working for them.

They do expect ubiquitous, i.e., pervasive connectivity.

They are a post-literate, experiential-focused generation. They don’t read and here is the amazing thing. They don’t read and how can they be so smart? Because there are so many other ways in which we are gathering information.

One of the things I love now at PNC Park is the science of baseball. It’s like we’re finally realizing that if we want to turn out a generation that is more in tune with science, go to sport. Use the science of sport and don’t be half-pregnant. Do it all the way. Go in there and teach it.

It is so often the case that the existing institutions, we want to tiptoe. I’ve had clients going, “We want to be high-tech, just not too high-tech.” “We want to be on the cutting edge, just not too cutting edge.” Go for the gusto or don’t go at all.

They understand finances better than we do. Why? Because they’re leaving college with student loan debt saying, “Wait a minute, what is this about?”

They are questioning the historical dynamics that we have given them, and I think it’s time that they do so.

What do I love about them? Tremendously heightened expectations about the future. They are the generation that we aspired to be in being able to say, “Well, if you can imagine it, why can’t you do it?”

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