Saturday, March 9, 2013

Your Questions Answered: The Full-Text and less pithy response to Question #4

Jim D asked:

4. Can we trust those youths who have no meaningful memories of the 1990's?

My original answer was:

I tend to think not. I drive past a high school every day on my way to work, and the kids are starting to dress like they're in a Young MC video or maybe big Madonna fans. I don't think they know that's what they're emulating. The undergrads I see are basically okay, but they're easily distracted and swayed by anything from donuts to sparkley lights. Basically, I don't trust anyone who still has dreams or aspirations.

I work on a college campus.  Almost every day I am surrounded by bright young people who were born between 1990 and 1995.  Many are lovely people, and if I didn't believe that, I wouldn't work there.  But I also know that this is the first time they've stepped away from the helicopter-parenting, special-snowflake environs in which they were raised.  One bubble into another.

I don't know if I'd anchor my answer necessarily to the 1990's, other than that the 1990's were the era in which I passed from teenager to college graduate, and the cultural and historical events of the era no doubt had a huge hand in how I think of things today.

Do I trust a 19 year old telling me about hip new bands?  No, I do not.  I've had almost twenty years to outgrow the bands I liked, understand their influences later on - and stop believing that they sprung from the earth fully formed as geniuses, the like of which the world had never seen before.

Do I trust my student workers to comment on the 1990's in any meaningful way?  Not really, but it's always interesting to hear their impressions formed from magazine articles and VH1 specials.  They certainly do not trust me, and don't buy it when I smile and nod and tell them I was at the first Lollapalooza.

In many ways, it's not just music - it's the accumulation of time and experience that's only earned by hanging onto the surface of the earth for a few more revolutions.

But I find it unnerving that the kids never had The Cold War as a memory.  Terrorism - aside from those early days of taping windows and hoarding water bottles - has been something happening elsewhere for 12 years.  We may put up with some wackiness at the airport, but we don't even know the names of the leaders of countries that are producing terrorists.

So that's how I'd tie it to the 90's.

When I was 17 and an angry youth, The Admiral pointed out that my insistence on blaming things on The Boomers wasn't particularly helpful.  That my generation would also blow it, just as the generations leading up to now had been basically fumbling their way forward.  I was skeptical of this idea at age 17, for surely my generation had the advantage of history and learning from mistakes.  But I had tremendously overestimated the capacity of a people to learn from history, and I had failed to understand - really until entering the workforce, that generations are a factor, but it matters a whole lot less than you'd think.  We'll join forces as generations to really f-this up together.

The point, I suppose, is that we're poorly equipped as short-lived information toting meat-machines to get the data that the next generation will actually need.  We have to spend the first two decades of their lives getting them the basics before we can specialize in sharing knowledge, and then we're dispersing the information out amongst pocket communities and asking that they somehow make the knowledge available to the larger masses.  The shared knowledge and personal experiences can never really be transferred directly, but only by indirect means.

There's nothing new under the sun.

I trust far less the kid who didn't rebel a bit and push back when they were between the ages of 14 and 20-something.  Now, I don't trust the adult who hasn't figured out that constant rage at the machine is a little childish.*

I made a snide remark about not trusting people with dreams or aspirations, and that was meant as a cynical joke.  We've all got dreams and aspirations.  I hope.**   But I also am in the phase of my life where we're a bit past the decisions of what we're going to be when we grow up being asked as an exercise in fantasy and I've reached a place where I've seen people I know, personally, get Emmy awards, get university teaching gigs, and flame-out badly.  It takes work and dedication and no small amount of luck to even be wired to be the kind of person who is needed at that specific moment.  Believe me, it's easy to be an 18 year old and say "I am going to film school!".  It's something far different to cash in your chips, gird your loins, walk away from a dull but lucrative job with benefits and go off to be an independent video producer.

We encourage our kids to have dreams, and we need them to keep moving forward.  I jut don't think we always make the causal connections between the dreams and the steps needed to get there terribly clear.  We assume there's a magical wizard spark that occurs and: voila - fame and fortune.  And, when you're 18 and the hero in your own story, of course you think that's going to be you.

Anyway, it's absolutely my job to trust the kids who have no memory of the 1990's.  I work in a library.  We're making the world available to them in the hopes that what they learn during their stay on campus will mean they'll build a better tomorrow.  At the core of that mission is the understanding that if we don't provide materials, educate and train the kids to think critically, we're going to be living in a world where folksy proverbs are our primary means of communicating ideas.  While hilarious, I don't want to live in a world ruled by Reader's Digest wisdom.

*fix yourself, then start fixing other things.  Kids look for someone else to fix their problems.  And you gotta pick your battles.
**If you don't, you're just taking up space. So figure some reason to get out of bed every morning.


Fantomenos said...

Hey, I was at the first Lollapalooza too! And being a college instructor, this post definitely resonated with me.

I mostly like the 18-22 year old cohort. I feel just terrible about the mess they're inheriting, and I envy the naivete they have that there are still "grown-ups" out there who might fix things.

This bunch seems to have a poignant mix of entitlement and fear, growing up in a world of smart-phones that make it impossible to get lost, and a level of unemployment that was unimaginable in 1996 (the year I entered the job-market).

Sometimes I get frustrated with them, sure, but I have to remember they've never ridden a bike without a helmet before. Most of them were forced to sit in car-seats until they hit puberty. In my mind, there's something unspeakable about a human being sexually active and riding in a car-seat, but I'm probably just old-fashioned.

The League said...

I don't have the direct interaction you've got. I just kind of see small things by sharing space with the kids. And, of course, I do try to remember being that age and the bone-headedness I was displaying on a daily basis.

I'd worry more about the kids getting soft (and they are), but it's not like their parents and most of us aren't right there with them yelling at Siri to give us directions and asking Yelp to tell us what to eat.

horus kemwer said...

Jim D does not hope - do you think he is "just taking up space"?

Also: I do not trust kids who have no memories of the 90s. One reason you give: they don't experience the post-9/11 world as post anything, just status quo. Two other reasons:

1. A sense of entitlement and corresponding laziness (I swear you posted on this in the past).

2. Corruption of social skills / expectations due to a social life infected (dominated?) by social media (facebook, instant messaging, etc.)

Are these three points related? Unclear to me. Am I just a bitter close-minded old man? Possible.

The League said...

I have likely posted on those points before, and I don't think I necessarily feel that it's not true now. But I also have to hope they'll figure it out. These days, I'm more inclined to look at the parents than the kids in this situation as they've chosen to be enablers for their kids' goofy habits.

Personally, I haven't been hit much by the GenY/ Millenials issues at work because my folks in that range are given pretty structured work, and it's not brain surgery. I see the students being ridiculous, and I wish they'd look up from their phones earlier than 1 foot from slamming into me in the public walkways, but, you know... kids.

Now if we could convince salesmen waiting for flights in airports that they don't need to shout to be heard on the other end of their phoneline.