Every generation thinks the generation coming up is teetering on dissipation. It’s pretty much a checkmark for middle age when you find yourself thinking that “kids these days” aren’t nearly as 1] responsible 2] engaged 3] committed 4] educated as you were. But what if they aren’t? I own a schoolbook, Sheldon’s Modern School Third Reader, published in the late 1800’s. Here’s one of the writing exercises for the eight-year-olds to copy and learn: “Little children, love each other, never give another pain; if your brother speak in anger, answer not in wrath again.” The book unabashedly teaches the values of its society: be kind, be helpful, be strong, and keep trying.
In a house I once lived in, I found a newspaper wedged into a gap in the wall. It was dated January 1861. Most of the front page was a literal transcription of a debate in the Senate about whether to continue postal service, among other concerns, to those southern states that had just seceded from the United States. No sound bites, no catchy illustrations–this newspaper assumed its readership didn’t need to be entertained, just informed; and being informed, could reach its own conclusions.
Is entertainment becoming more and more of a priority with each succeeding generation? A recent TED talk made the proposition that the millennials—the tag given to those born, approximately, between 1981 and 2001—could be the next “greatest generation.” The TED argument mostly ran along the lines of the millennials hyper-connectivity and their openness to change. Certainly, millennials are hyper-connected and an openness to change is always a good thing. But are millennials orchestrating the change themselves—building a society of values like Sheldon’s Modern School Third Reader—or are they simply ingesting what is fed to them?
Because technological connectedness is a form of consumerism.
By eschewing critical thinking for app-and info-tainment, millennials are allowing those who create the apps and programs to think for them, sort of like children do. Add to that, the fact that many millennials still live with their parents (and get along with them!) and you come up with the rather depressing conclusion that adulthood for this generation has been abnormally delayed.
A key component of adulthood is individuation. It is a time to test boundaries, stretch the brain, question authority—in short, a time to figure out who you are by questioning and comparing. (That’s why it’s almost necessary to not get along with your parents while individuating.)
So is anything really wrong with being a child in your twenties and thirties? Why not just be entertained? Because inevitably someone’s going to take charge of your life, and it would be better if it were you, not the conglomerations that deliver your entertainment. My advice to millennials: Become indignant. Become discerning. Become more of a creator and less of a consumer.
What if each successive generation is a little more willing to be entertained than to entertain the hard questions? What if it’s true?