It’s Wunderkind Week — The Information

Hi, welcome to your weekend!

Ever since the Covid lockdowns began three years ago, young people have seemed a little lost. I watch it at home with my two daughters, 13 and 11, who still can’t break some of the annoying screen habits they’ve developed during the pandemic. I see it with their public school classmates in San Francisco, many of whom are still climbing out of the pedagogic hole opened for them by their district leaders. (Keeping SF schools closed for almost two whole years was clearly a colossal mistake.)

And you can see it in the lives of even the most talented and wonderful children. As Margaux writes in her fascinating two-part survey of today’s teen founders—the centerpiece of our first story Wunderkind theme— these teenagers “entered the pandemic as more or less normal (albeit gifted) children and left it as pseudo-adults in the workforce, sometimes bringing in more income than their parents.”

Despite famous founders like Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg, it’s always been an uphill climb for teenagers in the tech industry.

But the odds of success should have been even steeper for the lockdown generation—the Zoomers. How teenagers emerged from the chaos of Covid to be in charge of million dollar companies is a miracle.

For parents, their stories offer hope that our children were not all lost in the past three years. We just have to figure out how they did it, which today’s stories will fully explain. Now to wunderkinder…

Covid-19 lockdowns have chained a generation of teenagers to their computers. For a lucky few, it opened up a world of opportunity. Margaux talks to some of the most promising teenage founders of this generation.

Silicon Valley loves a teenage superstar—but all the attention can come at a cost. In a companion piece, Margaux discusses the challenges and risks of going so big so young.

Facing off against their media-wary parents, the next generation of tech is drawing content with familiar influence. Annie talks to Phoebe Gates (20-year-old Bill) and Alexis Cuban (19-year-old Mark) about strategically using the platforms their parents helped power.

More than ever, Silicon Valley families are moving away from traditional schools and summer programs. Reporter Diana Kapp takes us inside the latest design implementation garages, brainwave recording studios and an “Olympic-level training camp for the next generation of scientists, entrepreneurs and technologists”.

Audition: A comic look at lost careers
Ever wondered how telegraph operators relayed messages on a moving train? Or how phone booths kept working during the 1977 blackout in New York? A new Wondery podcast, “This Job is History,” answers these questions and more. Each episode looks at a career from your old days: factory lecturers, pigeon lofts, VJs—and, yes, telegraphers and phone booth repairmen. (About 5% were women, according to the pod.) The program works somewhat like a “Saturday Night Live” skit, with funnyman Chris Parnell (an “SNL” alum) playing a dim-witted interviewer who talks to “really people from the real past” to learn about these occupations, such as the fictional Susan Chapman, an 1870s telegraph operator stationed in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Actress Mary Birdsong voices her as an amusing Calamity Jane in a calico dress.) It’s all very PG—perfect for a family road trip.—Abe

Reading: The Death of the English Major
Here’s a new leading indicator: When the U.S. economy is doing well, more students enroll in English and other humanities degrees, according to Nathan Heller’s recent New Yorker article. But when the economy worsens, these segments tend to shrink. And right now, they’re on the way to extinction, down 50% or more, as students increasingly opt for “practical” degrees like engineering or finance. I wasn’t an English major—I chose the more arcane path of studying philosophy with a side of gender studies—but there’s something troubling about a generation moving away from the liberal arts. Yes, student debt is real, and yes, it’s hard to graduate in a recession, but markets are changing. It will always be important to know how to think. At the very least, English gentlemen (or those who have read writers like Mary Shelley, Aldous Huxley, and Philip K. Dick) will have a better sense of what to do when the future plays out differently than hoped. —Ariel

Watch: An endless stream of YA drama
I grew up on the cusp of the CW era, religiously tuning in to (the old) “Gossip Girl” and (the new) “90210” once a week so I wouldn’t hear spoilers at school the next day. The era of network television for young adults may be long gone, but streamers have more than filled the void. As Wendy Lee and Brian Contreras report in the Los Angeles Times, Netflix has become The CW on steroids, pandering to the YA market with shows like “Wednesday,” “Outer Banks,” “Never Have I Ever,” “Ginny and Georgia “. and many many more. Although I’m technically outside of the YA demographic, I’m still a fan of these series—often funny, suspenseful, and relatable to a whole range of teenagers and adults. Of course, Netflix now has a plethora of competitors, with HBO Max (“Sex Lives of College Girls,” “Euphoria”) and Amazon Prime (“The Summer I Turned Pretty”) also competing for the YA crown. Next up on my YA watch list: “Daisy Jones and the Six,” based on a #BookTok hit that just debuted on Amazon Prime. — Annie

It makes you think

Let’s hear it for the Eli Lilly impersonator!

Until next weekend, thanks for reading.

— John

Weekend editor, The Information

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