National Commentary

Johnny’s World: Dear Johnny

weir-mug“Dear Mr. Johnny Weir,

“My name is XXXX and I’m 13. I wanna let u now that I am ur biggest fan and so is my mom. We watch all ur competishons and we just think ur the best. Cud you please send us an autograph? It wud mean a lot to me cuz your skating makes me really happy. I hope u have happy holidays and u have a great New Year and good luck in the olympics. Luv ya! XXXX”

I am a lucky man as I receive incredible letters every day. Whether they’re love letters or notes of simple encouragement, I take so much strength knowing there are people out there who support me. The example that starts this column was one such handwritten letter from a young girl in the Midwest. It arrived with a Photoshopped image of her from the breasts up, slathered in heavy eye makeup, a low cut top and a seductive look that was mildly inappropriate for a girl of 13.

The thing that stuck in my craw about this letter wasn’t the genuine good wishes or the naively sexual photo that is common all over Facebook and Instagram, but the lack of spelling and grammatical form and of course the fact that she was writing by hand the same way she would text her girlfriends. I got to thinking about kids. I thought a lot about my childhood, that of my brother, and then the thousands of kids I meet every year. What’s changed from when I was a little boy?

My best friend’s niece is an incredibly bright and beautiful girl of four. She loves Yo Gaba Gaba and getting her nails done. She also knows how to use an iPhone. At four years old she has the entire world at her precious fingertips whereas I was still trying to color inside the lines.

With the power of modern technology and the advantages it brings, will these devices that light up with the simplest caress, call our mothers, order our groceries and file our taxes ultimately make education obsolete?

I remember wasting hours toiling away conjugating French verbs, learning long division and memorizing historical facts about Archduke Ferdinand while kids today have easy access to Wikipedia, Siri and calculators. They can accomplish the most difficult of tasks in mere moments and it makes me wonder if my own schooling will even keep me competitive when I grow up and get a real job or if the most formative years of my education were simply government paid childcare for my parents.

With all the advantages of spell-check and auto-correct and calculators and pre-written summaries to novels that must be read and not skimmed, people have gotten lazy. Of course this doesn’t only apply to kids. My peers and even the generations more advanced than me all Google the proper meaning or spelling of a word or the exact geographic location of Eritrea with street view. When there are computers and smart phones to do everything for you, what point is there in actually learning facts?

After I’d pondered the advantages and disadvantages of having Siri tell you things as opposed to learning them, I immediately thought of people’s relationships with Siri. She is a good friend. She is friendly, always gives us a straight answer, doesn’t drink or smoke and is clever. She’s exactly the kind of girl our parents stress for us to hang out with. But she’s a computer.

Kids today spend their lives on Facebook, they don’t talk, they text and it seems that the majority of their relationships happen online. How will they find love, make love or even make friends with someone they’ll call in an emergency? Most kids I meet can’t even look me in the eye when we’re chatting. In general I find that they start fidgeting for their phone after the “I’m fine thanks” happens.

As I prepare to have my own children, I’ve started thinking I’ll raise them as I was. No computer, no phones, just conversation and real thoughts. Who knows, maybe my daughter will even be able to write in cursive.