The New Generation Gap: A Cause for Concern, and for Hope

I’m responding to your editor’s note [“Notes From Metropolis: The New Generation Gap”] of an issue or two ago. I’m in agreement with many of your points, and despite a looming deadline, I am compelled to write as I just got to reading that issue. A couple of decades ago when we were all in New York, Michael McDonough, Thomas Bley, Constantin Boym, and I (in various combinations over the years) co-taught a series of upper-level undergrad design studios at the very same Parsons you mentioned in your editorial.

Not to speak too specifically for my colleagues, but I recall that we were often amazed at certain facts, ideas, linkages and/or connections that our students were aware of, but we were even more often vexed by the startling gaps in their knowledge of design culture and history. To give but one example, we got more than one “Ettore who?” back then — and that was only a few short seasons after the heyday of Memphis!

This phenomenon, this ablating of any sense of deep historical connection, seems to have only increased since then. This is surely a cause for concern—and I am concerned—yet I must say I remain solidly optimistic about my experiences with recent students. They are sincere, authentic, eager, committed, and trusting, even if they are overwhelmed at times (as we all must admit to being) by the vast information overload that they face.

I suspect that designers, architects, and artists are a very particular species of bird: they (we) are the canaries in our collective cultural coal mines. Students of these disciplines are birds-in-training, and through their efforts we are directed to new possibilities for flight. The current crop of students is likely the most visually literate group the world has ever seen, and I, for one, continue to teach because I believe that my students can change the world.

Steven Skov Holt, IDSA
Distinguished Professor of Industrial Design
California College of the Arts

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