My university sent me a card congratulating me on the quarter-century anniversary of my degree. Quarter century. Not 25 years. A quarter century.
Like most people in their 40s, I have fond memories of college and other days. I still listen to New Wave music (that’s 80s music, if you’re wondering). I still smile at Big Hair and leg warmers. I remember when MTV actually played music. I remember growing up in the 70s with Marcia Brady, coveting her hair. So yes, when I find my body no longer recovers as quickly as it used to, or I absent-mindedly put down my phone and then wonder where it is three minutes later, I know that I’m not 21 anymore. Some of the kids I went to high school with are dead. It’s just what happens.
Aging, particularly in a society that sees this as a Bad Thing (cover your gray! dress younger! lose weight!) can make one feel anxious: we don’t have as much time left. The world changes around us, and we no longer understand the slang, the technology, the mindset of those who were born decades after us. In our insecurity, we may begin to denigrate the younger generations, perpetuating the “generation gap.”
An older woman on Facebook recently referred to the Millenials as the people who are “raising more entitled kids.” It’s funny how we tend to see people our age as somehow better than the younger kids. My generation had its share of entitled kids, I have to say, which can only reflect poorly on the Boomers who were raising them. What does that even mean, though? Are we to believe that there were no assholes before 1990?
The world is changing, and it feels like chaos to the older generations. I was raised in a culture that had commonality in the Fonz, Archie Bunker, and Daisy Duke’s ridiculously short shorts. “What’choo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” was instantly recognized. We shared a common lingo. We went to movie theaters—a lot. We swam without life jackets. When I was very young, we rode without seatbelts. And while all of this was my valid experience, that doesn’t make it necessarily the best possible experience. Because if my parents’ car had been in an accident, I would’ve been thrown out the window. And the long-term value of a show like “Diff’rent Strokes” can be easily debated.
My children cannot even conceive of the world in which I grew up. My daughter asked, “What kinds of apps did you have when you were a kid?” So I told her about my Atari and my Texas Instruments computer that didn’t have a hard drive, but I loaded games onto it with a cassette tape—which she’s never even seen. My kids have also never seen “The Brady Bunch” and they may never do so. When I showed my daughter “The Jetsons” at the age of three, her response was a yawn of complete boredom. The things that felt special to me can never feel that way to her. We have moved on.
We have a nice TV. We mostly use it to rent streaming movies from Amazon, or watch Netflix. We don’t have cable. My son mostly uses the TV for the Playstation. Their preferred entertainment is Youtube. Youtubers like DanTDM and Twaimz speak to them the same way that Marcia Brady spoke to me. The difference is that Marcia Brady was created for me to idolize by television executives, but my children are finding their peers and deciding for themselves whom they like and admire.
I’ve heard plenty of Generation X’ers and older folks complain about social media and the way the young people spend their time on Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, or whatever the latest rage is, but it’s because they don’t understand what they’re doing or why. Our kids are forging their own commonality, still based on communication and media, but in a different way. “The Dukes of Hazzard” was no better than a Youtube account, and many might argue that it was far worse.
In many ways, the Internet is like the Wild West: it’s mostly unregulated and free, some people are good citizens, some are morally questionable, and some are just outright crooked and disgusting. We are no longer confined to Walter Cronkite for the news; now you can pick your own preferred source (and viewpoint) from anywhere in the world. For every argument, there is a blog with a counterargument. We have gone from four major networks (I’m including PBS because FOX came about when I was older) to millions of media outlets, from professional/corporate to homegrown/some guy in a garage. This is a little scary for some folks.
The world is changing, and our kids are leading the way. We can’t stop the changes, but we can support our youth in making them. We can adapt to these changes, or we can be left behind. Whatever we decide, screaming, “Get off my lawn!” is just howling in the wind.