To all you graduating high school seniors: Bravo.
Saturday, when your graduation ceremony ends, cheer like crazy. Take that awkward square graduation hat off your head and throw it a mile high. Tear your rotator cuff. Aim for the Memorial Auditorium ceiling.
And when your crazy Uncle Larry stands up in his seat, pulls out a cowbell in one hand and air horn in the other and makes that unmistakable sound -- like a terrified Jersey cow about to be run down by a tugboat -- as you walk across the stage, let him.
By all means, let him.
Because the day will come when you are old and gray, your body hunched over like a parenthesis, and you would give every penny to be 18 again. So soak up every inch of Saturday. The moment won't pass this way again.
Here's what will: troubles. Big questions. Beauty. Love. Disappointment.
These are the things you can't shake, no matter if you're 18 or 98. You may graduate from high school, but life will always be your teacher. It won't grade you on grammar, but life never stops teaching.
So with the world ahead of you, and high school behind, please accept one small bit of advice.
Don't text and drive.
First, your life matters. Second, so does mine and that of everyone else driving near you. Texting and driving is about as safe as bullfighting and driving; statistically, you're safer sipping on gin and juice than texting.
(But don't do that either.)
Besides the obvious reason to stop texting and driving -- like, it keeps you alive -- there's another, more layered reason.
The world you are walking into is moving so fast, like a treadmill whose speed you can't control. The engine driving this racing train is multifaceted, but usually goes by one name.
Google. Apple. Genetic mapping. Drones. Skype. 3D printing.
The future? Robots. Holograms. Human cloning. More drones. Maybe even time travel, colonizing other planets, living 200 years.
Think of all the changes between the late 1990s -- when you were born -- and today. In the next 18 years, the amount of change will be even faster. Another 18 years after that, and the world will be unrecognizable by today's standards.
Which is thrilling. And promising. And frightening. You are living in the middle of the whirlwind.
So texting and driving may seem like small potatoes. But watch what happens when you put down your phone.
You practice restraint. You take charge.
The device becomes secondary. You, the human, become primary.
Such struggle will be the central issue in the world to come. The technological forces -- authoritarian surveillance, scientific creation, corporate control -- that are emerging contain godlike power, enough to completely restructure the patterns of our daily lives and the ability to exist as citizens in a democracy.
"Our obsession with comfort makes us addicts to technology, and our attachment to security makes us servants of authority,'' write Derrick Jensen and George Draffan in "Welcome to the Machine.''
Addicts? Servants? You are supposed to be free and independent citizens. The crossroads you will continually encounter in the years to come will ask you to choose: Do we want to be free or not?
Technology has the alluring power to become so central and primary, which in turn crowds out everything else. We become enslaved to our device instead of the other way around. I don't really enjoy using my cell phone when I drive; I just find it's incredibly hard not to.
The trick is to wake up. To resist. To do more than just consume and plug in. Technology must produce systems and inventions that humanize and liberate, not dehumanize and enslave.
And unless you -- you! -- aren't watching and paying attention, who will make sure this happens?
I know it's hard. But you can do it. I swear on 10,000 cowbells you can.
You, the GR8 Generation, will have to.
Contact David Cook at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...