Later this week I’ll be stuffing a turkey (and myself) and giving thanks--thanks for family and friends, of course, but also for something my mind’s been mulling over for the past few weeks: human engagement, and not the betrothal kind. I’m just talking about direct, concise, clear engagement with one another. Earnest, curious communication would be another phrase for it.
The Sunday New York Times ran an expose on how youth engage with each other. The undertone was plain. We’re all worried about the next generation’s attention span. Electronic doodads distract them continually, and over time some of them have become multitasking extraordinaires, which worries us. They’re good at doing a mediocre job of a lot of tasks at once, and mediocrity doesn’t bode well for our future. Can these kids concentrate, learn, ask questions, and become engaged, productive workers who can compete in a global economy? Every generation seems to go through this. TV was supposed to make us all zombie-like nitwits. So was radio. The digital age has made things a bit different this time, but it doesn’t keep me up at night.
Still, mass media has devoted column-inches to subjects of this ilk in part because it relates to the big unknown in America’s future. A few weeks ago I quoted a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article, which referred to Narayana Kocherlakota, president of the Minneapolis Fed. He estimates that this country’s current job opening rate is 2.3 percent. That’s a lot of jobs, and filling all of them would reduce the country’s unemployment rate significantly.