A first for me

On the flight to Philadelphia, I experienced a first — I read an article in an “airline” magazine that I actually thought was interesting — “Who Knows” by Bruce Anderson, in US Airways Attaché magazine. The essay is about the “transiense of generational knowledge.” The opening paragraphs: What was I to make of the half-dozen ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the author of The Ideas Industry.

On the flight to Philadelphia, I experienced a first -- I read an article in an "airline" magazine that I actually thought was interesting -- "Who Knows" by Bruce Anderson, in US Airways Attaché magazine. The essay is about the "transiense of generational knowledge." The opening paragraphs:

On the flight to Philadelphia, I experienced a first — I read an article in an “airline” magazine that I actually thought was interesting — “Who Knows” by Bruce Anderson, in US Airways Attaché magazine. The essay is about the “transiense of generational knowledge.” The opening paragraphs:

What was I to make of the half-dozen editors and interns sitting around a conference table saying that they had never heard of Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees”? Should I have considered them lucky or illiterate? These folks, about half my staff, were all smart, well-traveled, and college-educated. Tellingly, they were also all under 35. The travel magazine that I edit was developing a photo essay on famous Western trees. The sparse text that accompanied the piece began, perhaps too predictably, with a nod to Kilmer’s 12-line paean, a poem once so familiar to so many. The tree-huggers and arboriphobes on my staff divided exactly by age, as though Kilmer’s poetic chestnut had been a birthright accorded only to those born before, say, 1968. It turns out that the year you were born may be a more important factor in what you know than the schools you attended or which side of the tracks you were born on. The generation gap is less about attitude and more about cultural points of reference, less about how long you like your hair or how short your skirts and more about whether you identify the Kennedy tragedy as something to do with the president or with his son. Twenty-five years ago, this concept of generational knowledge was distilled down to a joke about a kid who is sifting through the bins at Tower Records and announces, “I didn’t know Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings.” Today, that story just raises the question of why they call your favorite music store Tower Records.

I don’t agree with Anderson’s conclusions, but it’s still worth a look — and how many times can you say that about an airline magazine?

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the author of The Ideas Industry. Twitter: @dandrezner

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