It seems rather arbitrary that the people we interact with in school are all similarly-aged. What is it like to have more of a balance in the ages of your peers? What is it like to have more fundamentally asymmetric friendships (e.g. mentor–mentee, teacher–student) than symmetric ones (e.g. classmates, roommates)? In differently-aged friendships, we can consider the benefits to (1) the younger person and (2) the older person. Usually (but not always), the older person will have more experience and knowledge, so the friendship will be asymmetric in that sense.
Benefits for the younger person
Below are my personal experiences, originally written as an answer to “For high school and early college (or equivalent) students, how has regular casual interaction with people in their mid-to-late 20s influenced you?” on Quora.
My experience in this regard has mostly been online through sites like Quora and Facebook (and thus a very biased sample of this age range). I have also recently (2014 June to the present) become involved at my local effective altruism meetup group, the Seattle Effective Altruists (which is also a very biased sample).
Since these people are ahead in terms of age, it has been extremely interesting to observe them to see (potentially) where I will be in a few years. For instance, many seem to be working in various computer-based technology companies, and so I can try to gauge how happy I will be, what sort of lifestyle I might lead, and so on.
I actually now consider most of my closest friendships and meaningful interactions to be with people from with age group. I think part of this has to do with the fact that the people who share my interests (like effective altruism, rationality) all tend to be older. Another likely cause is that since I tend to associate based on interest, and since this is easier through online interaction (which isn’t limited by geographical proximity), I tend to make more friends online; but then, there is no restriction on age either, so of course I will tend to make more older friends than had I restricted myself to just people at school.
Some of these older people lead rather eccentric lives, so observing them closely provides a certain vicarious form of entertainment, as well as implicit advice on what (not) to do. Some of them tend to be vocal, and give a lot of advice about what to do once I am in college. Others tend to ask me for opinion on various topics, which always feels somewhat peculiar, since I’m never sure what I’m able to offer to those who know a lot more than I do.
As for influence these people have had on me, I think I may have adopted the writing styles of these people to an extent, along with vaguely having my outlook shifted. It may be too early to say whether these interactions have been significant.
Benefits for the older person
A while ago (2014 September) I hosted a discussion on the benefits for older people of interacting with younger people.
- “The value for young people of intellectual interaction with older people”
Teens in America are in touch with their peers on average 65 hours a week, compared to about four hours a week in preindustrial cultures. In this country, teens learn virtually everything they know from other teens, who are in turn highly influenced by certain aggressive industries. This makes no sense. Teens should be learning from the people they are about to become. When young people exit the education system and are dumped into the real world, which is not the world of Britney Spears, they have no idea what’s going on and have to spend considerable time figuring it out.