The Kids Are Alright: Talkin’ Bout My Generation

October 14, 2007

I’m starting to get tired of reading articles and blog posts about how my generation generally fails.  Although I’m aware that adults have been decrying “kids today!” for centuries, and talking about how in their day, things were different (usually implying better).  Yeah, yeah, Social Security will be gone, global warming will fry the planet, and we’re all going to hell in a handbasket.  I get it.

Last week, Thomas Friedman (I like his books, especially From Beirut to Jerusalem, but his column?  Not so much lately.) referred to us as Generation Q.  The Q stands for quiet.  “It’s for all these reasons that I’ve been calling them “Generation Q” — the Quiet Americans, in the best sense of that term, quietly pursuing their idealism, at home and abroad.  But Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good.

The piece was inspired by his visits to several colleges and what he saw based on the student populations there, and while Friedman is not entirely negative (he mentions the popularity of Teach For America and how so many students are volunteering in the U.S. and abroad), the impression I took away from the article was that my generation’s activism and politics were greatly inferior to our predecessors. 

Sometimes, I think he is right – perhaps young people are much more apathetic now than they once were.  After all, the current political options kind of suck (which candidate are young people rallying ’round this election?  Obama?  The existence of silly “Obama girl” videos isn’t going to earn our votes, thankfully) and there is little to be optimistic about on the national level. 

Maybe the reason we volunteer and work in the local, grassroots arena is because that is where we can actually change things.  Maybe we learned from our parents’ generation that it’s tough to effect change from the top down, so we’re working from the bottom up.  By the way, here’s a reaction from Wired magazine’s Threat Level blog about just how active “Generation Q” really is – just because major media isn’t covering it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Or perhaps he’s just expecting activism to look exactly the same now as it did during his college years – which thanks to internet, will never be the case.  I have the feeling that he might be falling into that trap that many Boomers (and actually, pretty much everyone else as well) have – the trap of looking at their youth through rose-colored glasses.  Adults were complaining about the kids then too, and guess what?  Things aren’t that bad.  Besides, it’s not like those of you who were young in the sixties and seventies were all activist saints working selflessly to save the world  – we know, we’ve seen the TV shows (thanks VH1!) and we’ve listened to the music.  You probably inhaled – and hey, you’re a respectable grown-up now, right?

Clearly I’ve digressed a bit, but the Friedman column isn’t the only NY Times piece I’ve got issues with at the moment – David Brooks penned an op-ed called the Odyssey Years about how today’s young people are essentially taking longer to reach “adulthood” (defined as being married with children, as that seems to be the pinnacle of existence in his world).  

Yes, I agree that many people are taking longer to reach this point, but what’s the problem with that?  Besides, when you consider that typical life expentancies are at least ten years longer for today’s twenty-somethings, what’s wrong with spending a few extra years unencumbered by a spouse and children?

I’m not exactly sure why this article just straight-up rubbed me the wrong way, because I don’t completely disagree with it – he makes many good observations, but the underlying tone seems to be one of dismay.  Is it really so unfortunate that, say, female wages have risen and more women are going to college than ever before?  Apparently, this “has fundamentally scrambled the courtship rituals and decreased the pressure to get married.”  So what?  How is altering outdated traditions (most of which put all the power in the hands of men, leaving women in the passive or worse, the “gatekeeper” role, which is just creepy). 

I think, however, that my main problem with both of these pieces is the subtle longing for the good old days, and the suggestion that my generation is somehow doing everything wrong.  Really though, nobody is perfect and instead of looking at all the bad things, why aren’t we trying to find the positive aspects and/or shared ground?  Granted, I’m probably just as guilty as anyone when it comes to “parents just don’t understand” thing, but aren’t there enough problems in the world without adding inter-generational battles to the list?  Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but even though the times are a-changin’, the kids really are alright.

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One Response to “The Kids Are Alright: Talkin’ Bout My Generation”

  1. Good points. I agree with you on the NY Times pieces. Today’s young people are not quiet – we just don’t speak in the same way as those who came before us.

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