Picture a kid wearing earphones all the time, wrapped up in his private musical world. At school, he keeps the wires hidden under his shirt or jacket, and he might share one of the earphones with a friend. At home, he likely spends a lot of his free time getting seriously engrossed in the latest video games. He knows all about the game technology and platforms, and is looking forward to the next wave of products, which he already knows everything about.
If the kid you’re picturing is in school today, then he’s just another average kid, exactly the same as most of his peers.
But if this kid was in school twenty years ago–listening to a Walkman instead of an iPod, playing the original 8-bit Nintendo instead of an Xbox–he was a nerd. Those music and game addicts of two decades in the past were a fringe subculture, and just about at the bottom of the social ladder. Anyone wearing earphones or getting enthusiastic about video games twenty years ago might as well have been wearing a pocket protector. They were social pariahs the likes of which today’s kids just couldn’t understand.
So what happened in the intervening years to bring their cherished oddities into the mainstream? An evolution of interest in math and the arts? A burst of genius for Generation Y? Not likely. If that were the case, then where are the all of the after school clubs for writing new program algorithms, and where are all of the kids using their powerful music tools to sample more music than any other group has ever heard (versus overdosing on the same few clusters of popular music from within their own lifetime)?
No, this would seem to be just another victory for the merchandising media. The things that may have attracted those nerds of the 80’s and early 90’s are still underground themselves, but the passive elements of dazzling entertainment–that’s what drove the spread of electronic entertainment beyond the bounds of the AV Club geeks and into the pockets and bedrooms of every normal kid in America. Our kids are no smarter than the non-technologically obsessed kids of twenty years ago…just better entertained.