My kids, all three of them, have had an extraordinarily luke-warm attitude towards getting their driver's licenses and based on conversations I've had with some of their friends' parents they aren't the only ones. Sure there are still plenty of kids chomping at the bit to get their licenses the day they turn 16, but the percentage of kids who don't seem too excited about it seems much higher these days than when their parents were that age. Why is that? Netscape founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen might provide a clue in his answer to the question of why he's so excited about the potential of car-sharing services:
Ask a kid. Take teenagers 20 years ago and ask them would they rather have a car or a computer? And the answer would have been 100% of the time they'd rather have a car, because a car represents freedom, right?
Today, ask kids if they'd rather have a smartphone or a car if they had to pick and 100% would say smartphones. Because smartphones represent freedom. There's a huge social behavior reorientation that's already happening. And you can see it through that. And I'm not saying nobody can own cars. If people want to own cars, they can own cars. But there is a new generation coming where freedom is defined by "I can do anything I want, whenever I want. If I want a ride, I get a ride, but I don't have to worry. I don't have to make car payments. I don't have to worry about insurance. I have complete flexibility." That is freedom too.
While Andreessen is talking about the future of car sharing services (which by the way seem much more likely to succeed in dense urban environments than in small urban/sprawl environments like where my family lives) he's stumbled on an important influence on our kids today - they don't need cars to connect with their friends because they have smartphones, computers and game consoles to connect. Sure their parents had phones, but with the exception of the lucky few who had their own phone lines in their bedrooms they had to share the phone with the rest of their families and had zero expectation of privacy. Today's kids don't just have private phone conversations they have the ability to have private video chats which their parents could only dream about 30 years ago.
In the case of our youngest, who is well into his 17th year of life and has no desire to get his license, he doesn't even have to leave the living room to play games with his friends. Thanks to Xbox Live he plays games with/against them all the time. His dad had to use that shared family phone to call his friends to coordinate a time to meet at the arcade to watch each other play Galactica. Once that beautiful day in the early 80s rolled around when he got his first Atari system he called his friends over so that could play Atari football head-to-head!
The point is that teens are decreasingly equating a driver's license with freedom. In fact our youngest has flat out said that he's dreading getting his license because he doesn't want the responsibility. On the other hand his dad is pushing him hard to get the damn license so he doesn't have to keep getting out of bed an hour earlier than normal in order to get the kid to school in time to catch the bus to the career center!
But I digress. There truly is a large behavioral shift going on with the younger members of our society. Thanks to the mortgage meltdown many young adults no longer assume that homeownership is all that their parents thought it was cracked up to be, and now that people have mobile networks at their disposal they're no longer socializing in the same way either. Of course kids will still want to get together to party and act like the fools they are, but how often they get together and how they get there is changing very quickly and those habits and patterns will last into their adult years. It'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out.