In 1771, a reader of Town & Country magazine fired off a letter to the editor that started, “Whither are the manly vigor and athletic appearance of our forefathers flown? Can these be their legitimate heirs? Surely, no.”
And in Book III of Odes, which was written around 20 BC, Horace opined: “Our sires’ age was worse than our grandsires’. We, their sons, are more worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt.”
And in October 2015, LA Times “humor columnist” Chris Erskine probably used a laptop put together by kids in Asia to write “The Millenial Pledge,” a list of things that folks ages 18-35 must do before they are allowed to call themselves adults. It included such deep insights as “I am entitled to nothing,” “I will show up on time,” “When I finally move out of my parents’ home, I will not take all their vodka and half their towels,” and “I will not spend an entire weekend exploring my own mouth with a coffee straw.”
Without question, it’ll be the most clicks any article by Erskine will ever receive.
For each generation, there is a new set of dangers and resources, a unique economic and political climate. Yet the presumption made by parents and grandparents and old folks without hobbies is that kids these days need to be groomed for success in the same climate in which they personally matured. There’s little acknowledgement that it’s not simply the next season of the game, but an entirely different sport.
My dad’s dad raised a family of 5 on a single income as a blue collar laborer without so much as a high school diploma. He was able to put all of his kids through college, including my own father, who upon landing his first full time job, remarked that he simply didn’t know what he’d do with all that salary. Meanwhile, despite having been employed since puberty and being incredibly fortunate scholarship-wise, I will be paying off student loan debts until I’m nearly Chris Erskine’s age.
A few weeks ago, during an Arizona Diamondbacks game, fans in the stadium were encouraged to take selfies for a Mobile Fan Photo promotion. A group of sorority sisters complied: they documented their experience, participating like a good audience and contributing to marketing for the team. When the camera located the group of women holding up their phones and smiling, Diamondback announcers Bob Brenly and Steve Berthiaume used the opportunity to fill time by laughing and mocking the apparent vacuousness.
They taunted the women (who couldn’t hear them or reply) on national TV, while using their youthful beauty to sustain viewer attention for two full minutes during a lull in play action. To cap off the lampooning of their paying customers, the announcers added they personally didn’t even know how to take pics with their phones. Self-awareness: if it’s an inch away, it might as well be a mile.
The tradition of bemoaning the upcoming generation’s uselessness is a well-worn one, as is the ritual of being fearful and derisive towards the unknown. And it’s not simply an age thing. Older adults as a group have been slower to adopt technology, but some (the more educated and affluent especially) have been able to keep pace. What’s required is an acknowledgement the only constant is change and a willingness to keep learning.
Aside from openness to emergent technology, Millennials have also been stunningly successful in other avenues at which older generations scoff. Never have civil rights movements progressed more quickly than in recent years. While Twitter and Facebook activism is scorned for being lazy, it generates real world action infinitely more efficiently than door knocking, wasteful flyering, and whatever other expensive, laborious action these oldheads consider more valid.
Millennials are ridiculed for their concern over social justice, their poverty in an economic quagmire they didn’t create, for refusing to entertain arbitrary rules of decorum, lack of interest in upholding an obviously unsustainable system and for using slang that makes older people feel unhip. Folks like Chris Erskine feel their power and relevance slipping away, watching the world in which they’ve been comfortable replaced by something new and therefore, frightening.
We can’t stop progress, nor do we have to resent those who are able to adapt to the change. Instead, let’s all be willing to share the tools we have gained in our respective corners and welcome the insights of a worldview different from our own.