“Oh, Very Young . . . “

What are your favorite 10 songs from the year you turned 16? Let me know in the comments. It’s re-e-e-aly hard to decide, right?

Me? The year was 1974. In order by Billboard ranking, if you put a gun to my head, I guess I’d choose:

    • 5 “Dancing Machine” The Jackson 5
    • 13 “Midnight at the Oasis” Maria Muldaur
    • 22 “Band on the Run” Paul McCartney and Wings
    • 24 “Time in a Bottle” Jim Croce
    • 44 “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” Brownsville Station
    • 51 “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” Steely Dan
    • 63 “Takin’ Care of Business” Bachman-Turner Overdrive
    • 64 “Radar Love” Golden Earring
    • 70 “Oh Very Young” Cat Stevens
    • 72 “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” Elton John
    • 79 “Tubular Bells” Mike Oldfield

Next question: What was the single most important thing to happen to you at age 19?

Me, easy. I met Jennifer. We’re still together 47 years later. [There’s no emoji good enough for that.]

True story: In 2010, at age 16, a boy named Kalief Browder was arrested and charged with stealing a backpack. His family was unable to raise the $3,000 bail, so he was sent to Rikers Island. On principle, he refused to plead guilty, so he was held for 3 years, awaiting trial, before the charges were dismissed. Released at 19 years old, he returned home and committed suicide.

That’s a summation. The details are messier, his earlier probation on the one hand, the hell of that jail experience on the other. But the central story remains: At 16 he was arrested for something he didn’t do, he refused to plead guilty, he spent the next 3 teenage years jailed on Rikers Island, he was released at 19 for lack of evidence, and he went home and killed himself. He was Black.

Man, I got a lot of joy out of struggling to narrow that list of songs from age 16. Thinking about my high school years. Remembering how I followed Jenny around the restaurant where she was waiting tables the night we met.


Gen Jones at the Bridge

Reading and thinking about Generation Jones today, I gained more insight into my own feelings toward MAGA on the one hand and Bezos et al. on the other.

Forgive the thumbnail timeline and capsule definitions, but Gen Jones came on the tail end of Boomers and as heralds of Gen-X.

We began life in starry-eyed belief that we could grow up to be anything, even President! The hellish Vietnam war cast that innocent positivity under the terrifying shadow of the draft; Watergate told us President wasn’t such a lofty goal; and a dying economy from the Energy Crisis made us cynical about Boomers’ promise of prosperity.

MAGA is to me a Boomer view of “Better Days,” when they flourished in privilege handed them by the Greatest Generation’s bloody sacrifice. Of COURSE that’s where they want to be again. And I’m happy to let them revisit it in senile dreams.

[Sorry. The phrasing of that paragraph was Gen Jones bitter cynicism from crushed hope speaking.]

“Even President!” we were taught, and it was our answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” the question itself being another piece of Boomer bullshit. Only post-2000 have I realized that the correct answer to that question is, “I want to be me. And I want to be part of something bigger than me.”

Because Gen Jonesers were taught to succeed or fail alone. Alone. No looking at other students’ tests; no letting other students look at ours. School was a factory: Stand in line, listen for the bell, put in your 40 minutes in the math class then the social studies class then the science class, & etc. It was a factory with kindergartners pushed in one end and diplomas/jobs handed out at the other.

It was a factory of teaching facts, skills, and biases to the middle, with children at both ends pinched by the gears. Those who learned too quickly grew bored and were castigated as inattentive. Those who struggled to keep up grew surly and were castigated as inattentive.

School made widgets. Widgets were slotted into the machinery of a society. If that early question had been honest, it would have been, “What *widget* do you want to be when you grow up?”

Sure, there were A’s for exceptionalism. The exceptionalism of the individual. The feeling of being better than the rest. And this is where the Bezoses of the world come in: The “I deserve insane wealth because I’m insanely better than others” people. The “Others are ‘Human Resources’ to individuals of my stature.”

[And now that you and I have grown used to the term “Human Resources,” it’s morphing to the more forthright term, “Human Capital.”]

I mentioned a post-2000 realization.

[It came pretty much right after the Bezoses of humankind brought the worldwide economy crashing down and stuck the rest of us with the bill for their junk bonds. I’ve put this comment in brackets as a bitterly cynical aside. Because what I write next is hopeful.]

Working in educational publishing at the time, I was confronted with a new approach called “Project Based Learning.” Give students a project that involves more than just one subject, and put them in teams to make it happen.

[Not the abstract “If a train leaves point A at 60 mph, and Jimmy has 2 apples . . . ” answered as individuals on a standardized test.]

Give a project to a team of students, and two wonderful things occur.

First, subjects are no longer discreet pieces without context. They’re a conceptual whole: “Build a bridge between these two desks, using the materials on the back table, with a budget of $10 to buy them. Make sure it can bear the weight of two bricks. Put together a written report of how you did it, what you learned, and present it to the class.”

Second, students discover that “team” means using each person’s strengths, accounting for one another’s weaknesses, and accomplishing something together. Not as the team-building warfare of sports. In project teams everyone shines; while everyone recognizes their need for the others; and together they’ve built something that didn’t exist before.

Within a team, students learn that some are good leaders, in that they inspire and organize. Others have a knack for engineering. Others can perceive how a plan does or does not fit in a budget, and offer alternatives. Others are best at perceiving the project as a whole and explaining it in writing. And some aren’t terrified to speak in public. (There’s also a value for graphic design in that presentation.)

When the project is complete, their joint work is put to the test by those bricks. If it stands, they celebrate together. Together. If it falls, they also watch it fall together, and they go back to the drawing board, with knowledge and experience they didn’t have before. And either way, I can guarantee that they’ll never again ride across a bridge without seeing it for the marvel of human engineering that it is.

I’m Gen Jones.

I was born in hope, and nearly buried in cynicism.

But I see this generation, and my hope is born again.


In all fairness, how different are non-fungible tokens from owning a Web domain?

Two differences: (1) I can’t really “own” a Web domain, only rent it; and (2) Non-fungible token owners are art patrons, most of whom display it publicly, like a private owner at a museum.

In both cases, NFTs are better than a Web domain.

Now, how different are NFTs from owning digital music? After all, both pay artists. (1) Again, we don’t pay a subscription for music access (let’s be honest, how many of us actually store most of the music we buy?); and (2.) We don’t own exclusive rights to the music. Other people can pay for it, too.

Next, how different are NFTs from buying rights to a photo from ShutterStock, iStock, etc.? Well, photo rights aren’t exclusive, and often they’re restrictive.

How different are NFTs from cryptocurrencies? (And if we’re skeptical about cryptocurrencies, how valuable is that piece of green paper in your pocket? It’s just a coupon with a serial number, traded for an hour of labor, in trust that the country we’re taxed by doesn’t collapse and default on it. And WTF is my bank balance except a type of cryptocurrency?)

FWIW, governments have a horse in this race, and in a barter economy of favor for favor or your garden’s green beans for my tomatoes. It’s difficult to tax the first, and impossible to tax the latter.

I’m 65 years old, sometimes grappling with Information Age concepts that younger people take as a fact of life. But this train’s starting to make sense. While we scoff, it’s leaving the station.