Generation overload

I have some difficulty staying on subject. I’ve attempted to write this post I-don’t-know-how-many times, only to see each effort branch off into other unrelated topics.

I want to begin by talking about my youngest brother. In the first version of this post, I felt I had to give a little background on who he is. In order to do so, I needed to talk about my other brothers, because I believe part of our identity is formed out of our relationship to other people. As siblings, we play our own unique roles. If one sibling is a doctor, then the other three Aren’t Doctors–they are each something else, but they aren’t the sibling who is a doctor. If another sibling is married, then the other three Aren’t Married–they are each something else (single, partnered, engaged, etc), but they aren’t the sibling who is married.

Let’s say I’m talking to someone about “my brother” and they try to clarify which one by asking, “Is that the one who’s a doctor?” and the answer is “No,” then that sibling is suddenly Not The Doctor. Never mind what their job actually is–it helps define who they are in some way that they are Not The Doctor.

Our rivalries aren’t nearly as intense as they used to be, and at times I would say that no rivalries exist anymore among us. I would say that more often, but I also know my little brother, and I know that this can’t be true. Whether it’s due to his last place in the birth order, or that he’s still maturing into adulthood, or maybe it’s his argumentative nature–whatever it is, he is usually the one who is going to “stir the pot.” I think maybe the rest of us are too tired to even try.

My little brother and I get along very well. He makes me crazy, but we get along because I’m eight years older than he is and we didn’t have the tense relationship that he often had with our middle brothers by virtue of being closer in age to them.

Little brother recently completed his undergraduate degree in computer science. He’s been working part-time at a restaurant for a few years now. Last summer, he traveled across the Pacific Northwest, learning sustainable farming practices. He loves to cook. He sells me weed. If we’re hanging out, we’re probably smoking.

We talk about all kinds of things. He is usually trying to work through something, some problem or idea. Sometimes he just needs a sounding board, other times he’s looking for a conversation. He’s on his way over to my place right now and I never really know what to expect when he arrives (update: it was a quiet, pleasant get-together this time).

One of his favorite topics of discussion is the concept of generational differences and cut-offs. He visits Reddit frequently, and I know from being on there myself that you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a vitriolic argument pitting Baby Boomers against Millennials. Given his existing interest in the subject, he gets sucked further into the mentality that breaks down and divides people according to the era they were raised in.

My brother’s birth year is often cited as the terminating point of the Millennial generation, and he rejects any viewpoint that would prefer to categorize him among the generation succeeding that one. One time I made the observation that I thought the criteria for determining the advent of the post-Millennial generation should take into account one thing: If a person can’t recall a time when they didn’t have internet access on a home computer or device, that I would personally categorize them as whatever is “post-Millennial” (I’m told this is being called Generation Z). Of course, this ignores the fact that plenty of people go without home internet access all the time, but I’m speaking broadly here. The point I was wanting to make was that the childhood and upbringing of people who weren’t raised with the internet (and instead had to adopt it into their lives) seems to me very different from those who have never known that experience because they have never lived in a world without “the internet” available to them at home, work, or school.

But this is all the thought that I’ve given to this subject. My little brother reacted negatively when I shared my opinion with him. It was only one viewpoint, based on one observation and supported by no research whatsoever. The only statistics I ever looked into were ones pertaining to household adoption rates of the internet–in September 2001, the percentage hit 50%. Our household would have been in that 50%, but just as many were not.

From my perspective, my little brother was raised in a way that aligns him more with the Generation Z crowd than with Millennials, but he rejects this classification. It’s fine for him to do this. I see it as a desire on his part to distance himself from his peers and to identify more closely with his older siblings and the life we all had together. And of course being the youngest sibling of four (five if we include our step-sister) goes a long way toward shaping his identity.

What I don’t like telling him is that while I think these classifications can be helpful in identifying common traits and trends in the population, and could even be used to address struggles that are generationally unique, that I feel they are used more frequently to encourage division–rather than understanding–among people. And this has been happening since long before he or I were on this earth–let’s say thousands of years ago. They try to put a new spin on it every time, but the fear of and resentment toward the “new generation” is old hat.

The new generation depicted in Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons was marked by Nihilism–today we’re Social Justice Warriors. Either way, we’re willing to throw out tradition and forge a new path. There is a tendency to reject everything that came before as it is considered tainted by outdated values we no longer identify with. Those are just two examples, but these traits are attributed to each new generation that arises and we should not find anything special therein. The historical context differs, but the extrapolations we make from the data appear to follow similar patterns.

Most of what I enjoy in life comes from the past. I can become irritated when I encounter attitudes of indifference toward it, never mind those that consider it dispensable. With that said, I can’t attribute those viewpoints to Millennials or Generation Z kids–what signifies “the past” is relative. Boomers could be just as likely to have these attitudes, they just happen to have matured in the past that the newer generations want to move away from. We’re only discussing these particular groups because we’re living through it, all together, right now. We’re alive and this is what we know, so we talk circles around the subject without identifying that we’re only repeating patterns laid down before any of us were ever alive.

But that brings me to the past, one far enough gone that none of us have lived through it. Do we even think of it? If you’re interested in any aspect of it, then you probably think about it often, or at least whatever part of it is of interest to you. People find all kinds of ways to connect to the past–just the other day, we went on a cave tour, and there’s something about speaking in terms of small changes that take hundreds of thousands of years to occur that can put the present into a diminishing perspective. I know some people who go antiquing as a hobby, or even as a job. My fiancé’s sisters both scour for and sell vintage clothing. Some people, like my Dad, prefer to read books about specific historical periods or events (in his case, the American Civil War).

Personally I prefer older books, movies, and music more than newer varieties. This isn’t a rule, it’s just a pattern I’ve noticed. Other old things I might not care about–I don’t really gravitate toward oldness in objects or material items unless they please some aesthetic sense I have, or act as a signifier for something else that I enjoy. Like most other people, I still live firmly in my own era. I think I just hate seeing things dismissed or discarded based on age. When I talk about “older books,” I’m referring to the publication date, not the form it takes. War and Peace printed on computer paper and held together with the world’s largest binder clip is still the work of Tolstoy and is of greater value to me than an inferior novel in a pleasingly antiqued package.

Knowing this, it probably won’t come as a surprise that one of my most despised modern trends is the one that in schools seeks to replace the accepted “canon” of world literature with works that I’m told are more relevant to today’s youth. In that trend, I see a dumbing-down of scholarship, one that has no faith in young people to understand the past or the lives of others not like themselves. Suggestions go as far as eliminating adult books in favor of their “young adult” counterparts that aren’t as intimidating. I see this as an insult to any student who looks for the truth from their instructor and instead receives an easy lie. The only thing that trend has going for it is the attempt to be more racially inclusive. Even the woman part of me finds it hard to care about increasing my own representation in canonical works, so I’m happy to let someone else take up that cause. I don’t lack for female writers in my life–they are plentiful. I suppose the argument made is that they are underrepresented in the classroom. We had the opportunity to read George Eliot, two of the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Zora Neale Hurston, and Harper Lee, among others, so I did not myself feel a void where women writers were concerned. There’s only so much you can fit into a high school curriculum, after all. I would just hope that the quality does not diminish in favor of inclusivity. I also feel that anything new is hot–it gets assessed and dissected immediately, but it’s still on fire. I would hesitate to teach any scholarship on a subject that hasn’t had a chance to cool down–to figure out its place in the world.

Last night at home we watched The Rules of the Game, directed by Jean Renoir. Audiences in 1939 are reported to have been so scornful toward the film that it was pulled from theaters, heavily edited, and was rarely shown in its original form. France banned it during the war. Years later, it is recognized as a masterpiece. In the informative booklet included in my copy of the movie, one contributor compares the trajectory of that movie’s reception to that of Moby-Dick: disregarded, misunderstood, and even hated in its time, it has since claimed its rightful spot among the greatest artistic works the West has to offer. But it took time for that to happen. If we were to make a habit of never looking backward, The Rules of the Game would have been lost to the ravages of time, and Moby-Dick would be the out-of-print work of a forgotten writer.

But of course not everything from the past can be held in such high esteem. People get confused when confronted with “great” artistic works that depict attitudes and behaviors in accordance with their times and not our own. They seem to think it unfortunate that a great work would be marred by outdated attitudes toward women, or racial and ethnic minorities, or what appears to be religious intolerance. I would ask that they try to predict what our world’s humanitarian causes will look like a hundred years from now (assuming the planet has not burned to a crisp). It seems impossible to look that far ahead when we’re currently in the midst of today’s specific social and economic justice issues and feeling like it’s hard enough making any progress where those issues are concerned. And sometimes we regress before we progress. We could therefore be fighting for all the same causes in the year 2119 as we are right now.

Context is everything, and I hope future generations looking back on 2019 will be able to appreciate our very modest attempts at righting past wrongs and will not judge us too harshly for the wrongdoings we collectively decided were “totally worth it” because we died off before we could reap what we had sown. It might be difficult for them to do that, just as it’s difficult for us to understand the wrongdoings that populate our histories. Also, again, our counterparts in the future are going to be absolutely sweltering under the heat of the sun, breathing in poisoned air, and probably not thinking very highly of us if they think of us at all. So please excuse me if I’m not ready to pat myself on the back just because we might someday elect a woman president.

I have a lot of sympathy for older folks and their outdated views on male/female relations. It’s hard for me to get worked up about it despite being a feminist person who routinely encounters sexism in the workplace and elsewhere. I think we could extend an olive branch to our grandparents by occasionally humoring them and actually, genuinely trying to show some respect for their viewpoints. They didn’t exactly have it easy in life. Or maybe yours did. But I believe life has become easier in many ways and we don’t always show our appreciation for the still-living people who struggled and fought through conditions we don’t want to imagine in order for us to have the lives we enjoy today.

Allow me to give an example of a time when I defer to my elders without question. First let me clarify that while I reject and abhor most capitalistic concepts of authority, I have a few people in my life whose will I would nearly always and unquestionably abide by, and it’s out of love. The number one person is my grandma, because she is old and took care of me as a youngster. If she prefers something a certain way, I want to make sure she gets her way. I agree with her when she says things that might seem old-fashioned. It makes sense to me that she would have those opinions and preferences. A man should walk on the street-side when accompanying a woman down a sidewalk, or A man should open the door for a woman when entering a building. Personally, I only care about these things when they intersect with politeness, manners, and common sense. If I were a mother, I would walk on the street-side to protect my children. I obey many rules concerning politeness, so I hold doors open for people–men or women–often. When someone lets a door slam in my face, I think, “How rude!” regardless of the person’s gender. My grandma thinks its important for men to protect women and to treat them with courtesy, and I don’t find anything offensive about that. My brothers mocked and laughed at her recently when we visited the casino and she chastised them for not holding the doors open for her and myself. I told her that I thought she was 100% right and I meant it with all my heart. They think she’s silly and out-of-touch with modern times. I think that she’s trying to teach them how to be good, well-mannered men. I don’t want that effort to die along with her. I find myself bothered by how her wisdom is received in a flippant manner. Maybe it’s a problem of youth–not a generational issue, but youth throughout time. I assume that when we’re old, gray, and irrelevant, we’ll receive our comeuppance.

Now I’ve come to the part in the story where I must share one more thing about myself that has me at odds with my own time. It is the smartphone. I dislike them more and more as time goes by. If I could wave a magic wand and have them disappear forever, I would not hesitate to wave wave wave. I’d be waving like the sea. I feel like the only reason I own a smartphone is because everyone else does. I remember what it was like to not have one and be surrounded by people who did, and it could be quite ostracizing. People simply get tired of catering to your unusual requirements for maintaining normal lines of communication. But I have one now, and I don’t feel left out anymore because of it. Instead, I have other problems. Call them issues of etiquette. I don’t like seeing phones used in situations where people have gathered together presumably to enjoy one another’s company. I don’t care if you’re at a restaurant or relaxing at home with your family–smartphones are a scourge. It feels crazy to suggest that their use should be limited to times when one is alone, but I am crazy and that is my opinion. Because popular opinion runs contrary to my own on this issue, it’s nothing that I would think to vocalize unless I was looking for a fight, which I rarely am. I must accept that this is the way of the world even though I don’t like it. I have to choose which is more important to me: maintaining contact and peace with my family and loved ones, or taking a stubborn stand on an obscure issue that is unlikely to win me any friends. It’s not a tough decision.

Until next time, y’all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s