“Kids These Days”: Some Thoughts on Progress, Societal Change, and Generational Pushback.

Victor Hugo once said, “The brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over we realize this: that the human race has been roughly handled, but that it has advanced.” The study of human progress, of societal change, and generational difference and antipathy is one I’ve been considering a great deal recently. Why does it so often seem that people glorify the progress of the generations before them,  of their own generation, but then turn and shun the progress of the generations after? Of the young people rising to take over places of power and importance? I for one, would much rather see the handing down of wisdom and the perpetuation of encouragement. I would rather see joy at the futhering of the human race and what we can accomplish and what we can access.

Like most people, I’ve inevitably read any number of the denigrating articles about my generation. “Millennials are lazy and obsessed with the internet” is usually the outcome of the these articles. Millenials aren’t buying houses, millennials are taking out too many student loans, millennials do this, that, and the other thing. In conjunction with this, I’ve also seen a big influx of pictures like this on Facebook:

I know, it’s supposed to be funny. I tease sometimes about current teenagers not knowing what a VHS tape or a floppy disk is. But here’s the thing: I don’t actually want to go back to the days of floppy disk, VHS tapes, etc, etc.  I had a Walkman as a kid and man was it irritating to have to rewind to listen to a song again. Portable CD players were better, but you still could only carry one CD at a time and you had to buy a whole album even if you only might like a couple of songs. Now I can buy a new song at the click of a button and carry thousands around with me at once, if I so choose. I think that’s AWESOME. Kids aren’t spoiled for having an iphone now anymore than kids in the 80s were for having a Walkman. Before you say “well Walkmans weren’t nearly as expensive” check this out: they originally went for a price of $300. Most smart phones, when bought with a contract cost about that, or if the model is older, a lot less.

And not only can you carry around music on your smart phone, but you can in fact, make calls! You can send text messages, check the weather, play games, and basically have a tiny computer at your fingertips. For as much as I think back fondly on trying to stick that bulky CD player into a pocket as a kid, I don’t actually want to go back there., and I don’t have any interest in shaming the generations after me for the technology they’ll grow up with. We spend far too much time shaming future generations instead of uplifting and encouraging them and handing the charge of our society off with optimism and positivity. With each new generation the world remakes itself. New technologies are discovered, new social movements begin, new ideas are sparked, new trends take root. Entire new ways of life start even within a single individual’s lifetime, old and new cultural aspects blending together and flowing forward into slow but sure human progress, progress that inevitably people must fight for. There has always been some discord and misunderstanding between generations, and it’s something I’ve always wondered at: centuries ago, did people say of the generations after them, “those spoiled kids with their electricity, they don’t know the joy of lighting a candle or going to sleep in summer without air conditioning” or “those darn kids with their cars and public transport, my grandparents had to take a covered wagon out west.”

Studying the past is immensely interesting: there is so much to learn from history when it is inclusive, correct, and taught well. But history is interesting precisely because we as human beings can see how far we’ve come, and where we’ve still got to go. We see people striving for change, for progress, striving to make the world a better place. Nostalgia for the past is natural and the progress of the present does not negate and discard the good things that happened in the past, but sometimes, and very often lately, nostalgia instead turns into fear and insistence on keeping society in a stasis, always insisting that the past was better. At it’s best nostalgia brings forth fond memories of times that cannot be repeated and reminds us to carry the good things forward with us, that we must always take wisdom from times that are now gone. At it’s worst, it holds us back from stepping into the future.

One of the most prevalent criticisms of both today’s teenagers, kids, and the Millennial generation, is the overuse of the internet, and how they “never put down their phones.” Part of this I get (though I’d like to point out that plenty of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have smart phones too) I don’t like it when people are so glued to something else that they aren’t paying attention if we’re out at dinner, and please for the love of everything holy, don’t pull your phone out during a move or in the theater unless it’s urgent, that’s really annoying. But when I hear this criticism, it seems like smart-phones or the internet itself are these amorphous things that serve no purpose. Sure, sometimes I pick up my phone to goof around like anyone else, but I also might be checking messages from friends in different countries and time-zones, friends who moved internationally after college or foreign friends I’d never have met if not for the internet, I might be seeing if an article I wrote for the political site I write for has posted yet, I might be checking the breaking news on my social media, alerting me instantly to current events, (and no, I don’t mean TMZ, I mean actual news) I might be communicating with a nearby friend who needs a favor, I might be looking up a wikipedia article for something interesting I see, or I might even be reading a book on the Kindle App if I’ve forgotten my paper book and my Kindle is dead. I’m love physical books, but I also think it’s pretty damn cool that I can carry around 10 books with me if I want to.

The internet itself is an INCREDIBLE invention. It puts countless kinds of information at our fingertips, it keeps us in touch with people we know across long distances, and introduces us to people we’d literally never have met otherwise. Half of the friends I’ve made since moving to DC I made because of social media groups on the internet. I’ve made friends in far off countries that I’ve gotten the chance to meet in person because of the internet, and when could we do that before? People with similar interests can come together, people can share stories and art and music. People can launch whole careers. The internet gives the chance for anyone and everyone to have a voice, and it’s done a great deal to get the stories of maginalized groups out in the open and opens up so many doors for social justice and activism. Awesome organizations like the HP Alliance  (and many, MANY others) spread the word through the internet.

The more I think about this topic, the more I think about the kicking and screaming with which progress is met by more people than I like to admit. Sure, the pictures on Facebook are a joke and the Millennial articles are probably pretty similar to things that were written about the Baby Boomers before. But to me, it speaks to a larger underlying problem, a poisnous look into our society’s issues with progress and change, an obession with maintaining the status quo. At what point will we hear “those spoiled women, they can vote now, why are they so upset about cat calls and rape culture and being threatened with death for having an opinion on the internet?” or “those spoiled Black Americans, why are they so busy playing the race card all the time? Did they miss the Civil Rights movement?” or “those LGBTQA people, gay marriage is a thing in some places now and Laverne Cox is on TV, what are they so upset about?” The answer to when we’ll hear those things is now. We’re hearing them right now. Maybe we’re not hearing them in those exact words, but they aren’t far off the mark of some of the things that are said. . We’re hearing them in controversies within the gaming industry, where women have been threatened so much they’ve gone into hiding, and we’re hearing them in light of all the incidents in Ferguson after Michael Brown, an unnarmed black teenager, was shot by police in broad daylight. We’re hearing them in the story of yet another murder of a transgender person. And yet in the same day, I hear people say people are “too easily offended” and “politically correct.” I hear that we live in a post racial and post sexist society. Yes, things are better than they were 20 or 50 or 100 years ago, that is true! But that doesn’t mean the issues are solved, that there aren’t new issues coming to light, and it certainly doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to do to achieve equality and actual liberty and justice for all. (I’m looking at you, fellow Americans. Aren’t those the words in our very own pledge of allegiance?)

So yes, my generation is “web-obsessed.” But one of the reasons why? We’re angry. We’re angry at being called narcissitic and lazy when so many are scraping to search for jobs in this post recession economy, are scraping to make enough to move out and live on our own when income inequality is so high and the pay gap exists. We’re tired of being criticized for taking out student loans and hearing “I worked a summer job to pay for my college” when that flat-out isn’t a possiblity anymore. We’re tired of hearing we’re spoiled for getting trophies for participation as kids when the generation shouting at us for it are the ones who gave them to us. So we take to the web with our anger, but we also take to the web with our optimism, because according to this article, we are a hopeful generation, despite the issues we’ve been handed. We believe in getting our voices out there and continuing the work of the past into the future, and we use the tools at our disposal. We’re taking advantage of the global society we’re living in to make a difference and improve the world we live in, trying our best to leave our mark, so I’m asking: what’s so horrible and conceited about that? Every generation makes mistakes, every generation has flaws, because we are, in fact, human beings. But we should be pleased to improve upon one another and hand the world off better when we part than it was when we set foot in it. Don’t step on the dreams and the drive of the people who come after you. Encourage creativity, lift them up, and let’s see what kind of incredible world that might make.

(This post was written under the influence of Fall Out Boy’s new song “Centuries” so if you haven’t listened to it, you should go do that!)

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2 comments

  1. I love this. It’s infuriating to hear “millenials are technology obsessed”, we can’t communicate with each other, we’re stupid, we’re self important, we all have a sense of entitlement. Maybe some of these things are true, for some of us. But baby boomers and gen x’ers also had a big technology boost that has had a huge effect on us – TV. Most of our generation was babysat by a tv set. TV was a way to get the kids to sit still and be quiet and not bother you. Putting a dvd on requires two seconds of effort, vs say, reading a book to your kid, so we learnt early on that whenever possible, take the road that requires the least ammount of effort. So from early childhood we’ve been bombarded by advertising for shit we don’t need, unrealistic body image, celebrity lifestyle. We’ve been connecting with people that we only know through screens, because those were the people we knew. I remember the old desk top computer at my house, and the dial up internet. It was incredible! My parents told me how amazing this technology was, and that it was going to change and shape the world. So we clued in. We grew up alongside the internet, developed as it developed, and naturally intergrated it as part of our lifestyles. If you want to get a job, you have to have a phone to be contacted, you have to have a computer to type a resume on, you need the internet to search for jobs and email potential employers. And if you don’t know how to use a computer, you are immediately not elligible for a huge number of jobs. I think this sentence summed it up perfectly “We’re tired of hearing we’re spoiled for getting trophies for participation as kids when the generation shouting at us for it are the ones who gave them to us. “

    1. Ah thanks so much for this comment! I was in a bit of a mild rage last night while writing this, so I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, so I’m glad it has been well recieved! Everything you say here is so, SO true.

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