Graduation message: Dear Digital Son ...

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Graduation season is upon us, and words of wisdom will be flowing to the class of 2012 in commencement speeches from boldface personalities such as Michelle Obama, Steve Wozniak and Steve Carell.

A little closer to home, I would like to offer a few insights from my dying analog generation to one high school senior in particular, who will soon be heading to the University of Chicago. Because he spends most of his time locked in his room, on his computer, ignoring my emails and texts, this is what I hope to share with him during one of our rare face-to-face encounters.

• Your friends will become your surrogate family once the cruel, Darwinian abandonment of your parents and siblings is complete. And by friends, I refer to those rare few people who will bring you soup when you are sick, correct your tendency toward self-aggrandizement and do whatever onerous favors that are the Digital Age equivalent of driving you to the airport. A Facebook friend will not drag you to the health clinic when you develop a mysterious and fast-spreading rash.


• Read books for pleasure. Buy old books you hope to dive into someday, even if you never do. Cherish the weight of a book on your chest as you fall asleep on a lazy winter afternoon. Books will still be here in 1,000 years. Pinterest will not.

• A dive bar is a social platform. Tumblr is for publicly sharing awful photographs of railroad tracks and snowy branches no one wants to see, not even your mother.

• Despite the ongoing existence of “Transformers,” a movie is not the first layer of a multi-platform marketing scheme but rather a singular act of art to be experienced, debated with good friends over food, drinks and revisited years later. To see a film projected in a common, shared space is central to the experience; feeling the audience catch its breath when Peter O’Toole blows out the match in “Lawrence of Arabia” is a moment you will never forget. You will be hard-pressed to recall to your children the exact surroundings when you first enjoyed the serotonin-flooding epiphany that was “Charlie bit my finger” on YouTube.

• Since the age of 20, I have started every day with strong coffee and several major daily newspapers. A newspaper provides a robust and reliable frame for my mental visualization of the world. Please do not let your frame be filled up by the Kardashians, conjoined twins, conspiracy theories, 46-pound cats and cancer-fighting Amazon lichens.

• Though I can no longer imagine life before Google or Yelp, I do remember that I was happy, productive and healthy, the sun streamed with equal brightness, and my mind was deeply occupied by the mysteries of the universe.

• Religious extremists, imprisoned serial killers and porn stars have followers. People who read your Twitter feed are probably just avoiding doing their actual work.


• Texting is a wonderful way to avoid the intrusiveness of the average, non-urgent phone call, but outside of that narrow context, it serves only to enable people who cannot write a simple declarative sentence.

• I have nothing helpful to say about your ability to hear, acquire and share new music. I cannot defend playing my vinyl copy of “The White Album” on any terms other than petty nostalgia, and I will take that false moral superiority to my grave.

Finally, a liberal arts education is an idea that has fallen out of favor with my generation and yours, and I am insanely proud that you have chosen that path. Let others pursue a narrow and relentless path toward one percentagery, but remember that very few people wake up every day and look forward to their labors. Most people only look forward to lunch.

Go out and discover the world and yourself. And if you have a chance, read that old copy of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” You can ignore the notes scribbled in the margins. I’ll explain that phenomenon another time.

Bruce Stockler works in the advertising industry.