Print People, Television People

Does it seem that students are becoming more impervious to direction and correction?

Do some military recruits enjoy the glory of the uniform but lack the commitment and the character to abide by a loyalty oath?

Do younger employees lack the concept of ‘working one’s way up’ in a career field?

Do younger workers seem to consider their jobs low priority, impetuously quitting, or missing scheduled days, to seek personal satisfaction?

If you are noticing these, or similar behaviors, you may be interested in the following theory.

Twenty years ago I attended an in-service given by David Burkett (Very Good Management: A Guide to Managing by Communicating, Prentice Hall, 1983) who presented a plausible explanation for some of the cultural problems that appear to be unraveling the fabric of society. I was so impressed by Mr. Burkett’s ideas that I have never forgotten them, and I believe that the insights he presented that day in Iowa have assisted me in understanding, sometimes even in coping with, many of the unwelcome changes in America.

According to Burkett, Print People are “those who were born before the midfifties when television became obtainable for nearly everyone…Print people were influenced in their early years by books and magazines.” (Pgs. 31—37)

Television People, born after the mid-fifties, are those who have grown up getting most of their knowledge from the television:

During their formative years, between the ages of 2 and 9…spent huge amounts of time watching television, more time than they spent in school…those in the television camp are more capable of manipulation and also more aware that manipulation may not be the best way of getting people to do well what needs to be done. Because of these qualities, television people can be rather unsettling to those who supervise them…they share certain characteristics unlike those whose early lives were influenced more by the printed word.”

Burkett believes Television People to be:

  • more likely than Print People to reject authority as a model management system; more skillful at manipulating and more willing to erode authority when they believe themselves counterfeited.

  • more likely to view a leader as the person with the right talents and abilities and who deserves a following, not someone appointed leader because of age or tenure.

  • more likely to perpetuate a hope that he will remain the center of his universe with full participation, as he perceived himself in his relationship with the television;

  • more likely to experience strong feeling of deprecation in his relationships with authority figures; more likely to retaliate for his loss of control (after years spent controlling his world with a remote in his hands) by eroding their authority.

During the in-service, Mr. Burkett summarized these differences between these two groups by noting the conclusions that have come out of his studies:

“Print People do what they are told to do, almost all the time.

TV People do what they are told to do, less than half the time.”

I realized that if this theory were indeed true, it could explain much of the chaos creeping into academic settings. In my mind, I began sorting though children and adults I knew, placing them according to that defining ‘midfifties’ time slot, and comparing their own reactions to authority with those posed by Burkett. As I found one positive match after another, I pondered, feared actually, the eventual effect on the culture-at-large, in the years that were quickly approaching.

Mr. Burkett asked if we were noticing more strife between people — in schools, jobs, businesses, stores, and social interactions. Most of us nodded in agreement. He explained that we were moving into a time frame where Print People (who do what they are told to do almost all the time) were supervising TV People (who only do as they are told less than half of the time.) I gave an audible gasp — as the picture of an increasingly chaotic, unruly, undisciplined, egotistical, hedonistic, future flashed through my mind.

Burkett next directed our thoughts towards the future, widening the window through which we could glimpse that yet-to-come, “If you think that things are beginning to go badly now, consider this…as more and more Print People retire, they will be replaced by more and more TV People. We will eventually arrive at a point in time when the world will be run by TV People supervising TV People, and then…”

I sat stunned, for the picture of — those who only do as they are told less than half the time, supervising more of those who also only do as they are told less than half the time, was enough to cause that day to imprint, forever, in my memory.

That in-service was presented in the very early 80’s — maybe 1982. Consider how many Print People have retired in these last twenty years, to be replaced by TV People. Consider how many Print People are currently retiring in large numbers, and consider the remaining people who are biding their time, waiting the earliest dates for filing retirement papers. If we consider cutoff birth dates of 1955 or 1956, we see that the last original Print People are now 47 and 48 years old. If these people have typically (for Print People) stayed with jobs for their entire careers, they are rapidly approaching the point of “30 years of work + 50 years of age = early retirement.”

If the schools; the industries; the businesses; the military — are having difficulties managing students and personnel now, while they still have older staff on duty who are disciplined, and still attempting to organize and control the increasing chaos, what will happen to the culture, the schools, and the economy when most of the Print People are out of the organizations that maintain the stability of the country? Where will this country be with Television People in charge?

What if second and third generations of TV People prove to be progressively more unruly — maybe they ‘do as they are told less than one-third of the time;’ or even ‘less than one-fourth of the time?’ I feel certain that we are witnessing a downward spiral in the quality and effectiveness of discipline and self-discipline, and in all facets of life. Consider road rage, child abuse, spousal abuse, divorce rates, abortion, school misbehavior, academic decline, welfare rolls, employee absenteeism…the list is seemingly without end.

Every day I notice more examples of TV era persons who are determined to do exactly as they wish, precisely when they want, in any manner that they choose. I have had young people tell me that they quit their jobs because they were offended that the bosses kept trying to tell them what to do!

One day I stepped in front of a hall-roaming TV Person who was ignoring my request that he return to class, and stated, “Notice! I am not a TV, and you do not have a remote control! You may not like my ‘channel’ but it is the one you get to watch at this moment!” I might have saved my energy. He missed the point, looked at me as though I had lost my mind, and detoured around me to continue his out-of-class adventure. I noted not one touch of conscience, guilt, respect. The lights are on, but the reception is poor.

It is not surprising that TV People have failed to develop courtesy or commitment; loyalty to duties and responsibilities for they have been raised with remote controls in their hands. These individuals — these Television People have been given the means to control their world at will; on a whim; at the push of a button. They feel no compulsion to do anything a mere Print Person, or even another TV Person, tells them to do. Click. Double-click. Change the channel. Tune out. Turn up the volume. Put on the headphones.

Who will be left to lead this country, this culture, with wisdom, knowledge and common sense? Who will direct academics back to the jewels of human history stored in the millions of volumes of printed matter? Who will teach children to read and develop the mental training for thought and problem solving? Print People may be the only ones who understand that discipline, logical thought processes, and morals, are necessary for a sane and safe society to thrive, and thus to nurture its communities and individuals. But the Print People will soon be gone.

Our hopes rest with those children whose parents choose a traditional, print-based, social and educational route for their children’s lives. As socialism continues to block the efforts of those parents who wish to have School Choice, children’s chances to live in a free America diminish with each passing year. Every parent must consider what is best for the children, and for their futures. We must choose wisely, even if the choices require that we return to simpler lifestyles; to family life organized so that one parent can homeschool the children, or budgeted so money will be available for private and parochial schools. Our children are our future. Shall we raise them with Print; or shall we hand them the remote control to the Television? That Choice is one that we are free to make.