In this series, Strength in Numbers, I interview humans of different ages and stages of life to learn how it feels to be in their shoes. Today we meet Devyn.
Devyn is no stranger to the digital world. The 18-year-old Call of Duty enthusiast spends hours on his computer playing video games, talking to friends, mashing up videos and editing audio. He is heavily involved with New England Public Radio’s Media Lab program, where his commentaries range from heartfelt examinations of his family life to issues in Springfield’s school system to his love for video games.
With his red backpack covered in buttons, the skateboard balanced on his shoulder, the unnecessary ‘Y’ in his name, and his trendy haircut and thick-rimmed glasses, it would be easy to overlook the recent high school graduate (and first-year college student this fall!!!!) as just another millennial. But there is more to Devyn than meets the eye.
“Are you listening to elevator music?” I ask. I lean my ear to the source of the sound.
“I am. It calms me,” says Devyn. He flicks through a playlist on his phone. I recognize Vivaldi but not much else.
“What’s your favorite?” I ask.
“That’s hard. I listened to a remix of Four Seasons that blew my mind. Winter is the best,” he said.
We are sitting in the campus center of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The university is quiet in the summer, but throngs of bustling summer students wind their way around the crowded lunch spot.
Devyn helps NEPR’s Media Lab facilitate an Upward Bound class called Critical Reflections. While he is quite laid back, his inquisitive nature and intelligence shows. He asks me the names of the flowers that grow alongside the highway as we commute between Springfield and Amherst. (I took a stab and said purple loosestrife.) He wonders why the fog settles so thickly in the Amherst valley. We talk about the news, politics, college and the red tape that denies Springfield a proper skateboard park.
Like many of the teens I work with, Devyn is caught in a balance between excitement and hesitation for his future due to an awareness of–and connectedness to–the world that is unique to his generation. Here is what he has to say.
What is making you happy right now?
Call of Duty and music.
What is bothering you?
A lot of things actually. Negative reinforcement is a big one. Whether I do something good or bad my family negatively punishes me anyway. Mainly my mother, specifically.
Tell me a happy memory.
There was this one time I went golfing with my dad. That was a good time. I was probably five or so.
[“Do you like golfing?” I ask.]
Not really, no.
When was the last time you received an unexpected nice gesture?
Does holding the door open count? Not too long ago I’d say.
What is something small you regret?
I don’t know. Something I wish went better was the first time I drank alcohol and the next morning I went to iHop hungover with my mom.
[“How old were you the first time you tried alcohol?” I squint disapprovingly.]
I was 17.
What’s something big you regret?
I regret the day after prom. I went to an afterparty and it went wild… and viral.
[“Did you get into trouble?” I ask.]
No, surprisingly. The police came but that was about it.
What is something you wish you did more of?
Editing on the computer. I like to make cut-coms and visual effects. A cut-com is a long video that you cut audio, pictures or another video into. It is hard to explain.
What is something you wish you did less of?
Sleeping. I sleep way more than the average human. It’s mostly napping all morning, afternoon, even late at night.
[Devyn famously naps in the middle of a busy radio station.]
What frightens you?
Oblivion. I don’t want to die without being known. I want to be somebody to someone, hopefully, everyone.
What are you looking forward to in the near future?
I’m looking forward to seeing how my life will turn out.
When you imagine yourself in your head, how old are you?
It varies. Sometimes I imagine myself as a high school professor and other times I imagine myself as an immature five-year-old.
[“How do you feel?” I ask.]
It varies, again. Sometimes I’m super happy and other times it’s, you know, mundane.
How do you feel about aging?
I kind of want it to happen, but then again I’d like it to stop at age 25 for me. I don’t want to get too old, but I want to get older.
[“It beats the alternative,” I say after a moment.]
What’s the alternative?
[“Death,” I shrug.]
[We laugh over our looming oblivion for a minute.]
What is the best thing about being you?
My will to live.