| We are just beginning to realise how far-sighted Margaret Mead was. In her book Culture and Commitment: The New Relationships Between the Generations in the 1970s, she makes the distinction between postfigurative cultures, when the future repeats the past, cofigurative cultures, in which the present is the guide to future expectations, and prefigurative cultures, for the kind of culture in which the elders have to learn from the children about experiences which they have never had. "We are now entering a period , new in history, in which the young are taking on new authority in their prefigurate apprehension of the still unknown future." [MEAD, Page 13].|
This new type of culture she saw emerging with the 60s generation is now fully here with the 90s generation. Don Tapscott, in his book Growing up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation describes the generation born in the 1980s (and thus about to arrive at our universities soon) as one which has grown up with computers and thus is totally at home with them [TAPSCOTT].1 A university designed for postfigurative cultures, in which the old pass on their wisdom to the young because they have experience of the life which the young will live in the future, is no longer appropriate.
I'm not advocating a university in which the young are the professors and the old are the students. Nor would I look forward to a day in which the arrogance of youth is no longer balanced by the arrogance of experience. The old still have much to offer the young - the really important lessons of life are the same in whatever culture - be it prefigurate, cofigurate, or postfigurate. Those who have been on our planet longer are more at home on it (if they've been paying attention) than those who have just arrived. However, we are all "immigrants in time" (to use the delightful phrase of Margaret Mead). We all suffer future shock, as Alvin Toffler tells us, - that is, culture shock in our own culture because it is changing so rapidly [TOFFLER]. The Net Generation suffers less from future shock because they have grown up with computer-based media and can help the old feel at home in this alien (and potentially alienating) culture.
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