Community

All-ages event closed the generation gap

By STEPHEN SILHA

For The Beachcomber

Silence is golden — and so are today’s ubiquitous messages sent by cell phone, computer, Twitter.com and social networking sites.

Finding a balance is the challenge.

That was a conclusion reached by about 40 Islanders — half youth, half adults — who gathered in the VYFS Playspace (formerly the YMCA) Tuesday, Oct. 29, at the Island’s 14th Youth-Adult Dialogue.

Over a lasagna dinner prepared by Felicia Saathoff, Maryam Steffen and Joy Goldstein, participants discussed their definitions of media, their taste in music and their most trusted sources of information and news.

Kelly Ferguson and Klara Shepherd led off the dialogue by asking people to pick out images from advertising and record albums posted around the room and discuss them with another person in the room. Those exchanges illuminated different perceptions of images and politics, brand names and musical tastes between generations. The buzz of excited conversation was so loud that Marcus Berg had to ring his Asian chime and ask people to speak softly.

Then the under-20s spoke with each other — addressing questions about values and music, media and community, the value of social networking sites — while adults listened in silence. Not unlike their elders, the youth had differing musical tastes (“80 percent of music is about love,” one participant noted); some liked to be carried away with the beat, while others loved the poetry of the lyrics.

Social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook got mixed reviews. While many youth — and some adults — said they had great value and were “addicted” to them, others said they were “disconnecting,” foster “social cowardice” and allow people to “keep your securities instead of confronting them.”

Small groups of youth and adults talked about what they heard in the youth dialogue and came up with intergenerational messages about media and music for this moment in history. Among them:

Use media in moderation. Apply a filter that lets you block unwanted material. Trust yourself to stay connected to yourself; then you’ll know how to connect to others.

Get out from under the artifice of online communication and “swim to the mainland,” as one participant put it.

“Huemans” (people of different hues) are the highest form of technology.

Take time in silence and appreciate that not everything is instant and microwavable.

Use media and music as tools for introspection, expression and communication, but don’t let yourself get lost in them.

Then the whole group talked about what they’d heard and learned. “I always feel more intelligent after these dialogues,” said one young teen. “I really appreciate this dialogue,” another said. “I’m going to look at my computer differently.”

One adult expressed a concern. “I don’t hear youth talking about service to the community,” she said. A youth said he believed that his “putting quotes from Thomas Jefferson on the sidewalks of Vashon” was part of his community service.

Others talked about developing better online etiquette, the importance of voting and the dream contracts of the Vashon Youth Council, which allow kids the opportunity to get support for personal or community-oriented projects.

Development of Island Teens, which sponsored the dialogue along with the Vashon Youth Council and the Vashon Island Prevention and Intervention Team, offered grants of up to $500 to youth and adults who hatched projects together at the dialogue. One pair said they were going to explore where parts come from in cell phones and computers — such as the chromium in cell phones from the Democratic Republic of the Congo — and publicize their impact on the environment.

The next Youth-Adult Dialogue — about either sex or drugs (this one was about rock and roll) will be Feb. 3.

— Stephen Silha is a freelance writer who has co-facilitated youth-adult dialogues since January 2004.

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