Introduction (excerpt) 

People everywhere seem to have a never-ending desire to know how their society’s youth are living their lives. Perhaps this is because young people are inherently interesting—they’re optimistic, overconfident, and reckless; they’re sincere and curious; they’re often brilliant because their minds are not yet set in their ways, but still naive and immature because they have not yet experienced enough of life to know how it all works. These characteristics make young people interesting, but it’s not what makes them so fascinating. What fascinates us most about young people is that they represent the newest embodiment of living culture. Culture exists both out in the world—as media, education, language, etc.—and embodied in the minds of individuals—as thoughts, behaviors, and values. A permanent mystery of social life is the question of what the new generation of young people will absorb from the culture as it exists out in the world before they convert it into culture that lives in their minds and in turn acts upon the world. Society rushes forward, and nobody is holding the reins. In a free society, young people’s values are not handed down from above by tradition or authority, but are instead formed from below by free, spontaneous choice; the adults can only sit back and hope that the youth choose well. To observe the social lives of young people is to see culture as it is actually being transmitted and absorbed right now. Their lives reveal the forces that are most vital in society and allow us to witness the stream of life and the flow of culture as it lives across time.