Generation gap

Today I was participating in one of those technical conference juries where jurors need to periodically step out of the room, to avoid conflicts of interest. At this particular conference there were two graduate student volunteers.

At one point, there was a long discussion about a particular paper submission. At the start of this discussion several jurors had stepped out, because they were professionally associated with that paper’s authors. One of the students stayed in the room, and the other went out into the hall with the jurors.

At the end of the discussion, one of the jury chairs asked the grad student in the room to tell the other student to bring everyone back in.

The student looked up from his notebook computer and said “it’s ok, I’m talking to him.”

The jury chair clearly had no idea what was going on. Nonplussed, he repeated his request to fetch the other student.

Just then the second student came in, leading in all the people who had been waiting out in the hall.

I turned to the student with the notebook computer and said “He has no idea that you were actually talking to the other student, does he?”

The student smiled at the humor of the situation. And in that moment I realized I was witnessing a new kind of generation gap. A man in his forties, even a brilliant man who is an expert in his field, may not realize something known to everyone in their twenties:

That the young person he sees silently hunched over a notebook computer might be in the middle of a conversation with a friend who is just a few feet away.

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