Exploring the Eclipse of Equality

Tweets and Tattoos: Millennial questions about the young

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2010 at 10:27 am

Yesterday had a lot of buzz about young people and their potential effect on culture. Much of that speculation was driven by a fascinating poll by the Pew Center that continues their mapping of the younger set. This millennial generation includes those people born after 1981, putting them between ages 18 and 29. I am as interested in these young people as is anyone else because I find myself interacting with them quite a lot as an instructor. In fact, I am surrounded by them right now as I write. The energy of youth has no equal and that is a good reason to get into the professor business. I suspect that one of the gravest challenges of aging is becoming fixed in your ways and out of touch. Being around young people helps to forestall that condition. Check out the last show of the old BBC special called Civilization to get a sense of the complexities of educating. Clarke has a great sense of what it means to try to bridge the gap between the ongoing lifeworlds of young people and the legions of those who have passed before. George Mason has the added bonus of being remarkably diverse and this keeps the spirit open to the global condition. This is all to say that I am really hopeful for young people, even if I am worried about the American near future.

Politically, the young are remarkably liberal and progressive. Depending on your point of view this is great or dire. I will not weigh in on that, but young people are also learning what all people have learned over the years that change is hard and it is not always good when it comes. Optimism, of course, associates change with progress, but change is sometimes just change. This brings me to the point of this post. I wonder if we are becoming a bit too superficial. It is not that I worry about how deep we are inherently, its just that I worry that our openness to new technologies and wider (if virtual) social networks are robbing the young of their ability to articulate their deeper emotions. To get a sense of where this idea comes from, look at the great book by Robert Bellah on cultural problems that arise when people lack a language through which to express their connections to people.

I am reacting to a casual line that I just read in reaction to a sports death and will not refer to directly out of respect for those who have lost, but my question is, are we teaching young people and supplying them with the tools to manage trauma and loss? This is crucial if we are to manage change and contain conflicts as they arise. At times the culture feels quite silly to me and the tendency to conflate reality and fiction, while appearing above it may be undermining our languages  of depth and feeling. Is reality becoming less real and loss just a piece of the plot? I suppose not, but tweeting and facebooking (along with blogging) is increasing our communication density in a way that could promote surface over depth if we are not careful.

Speaking of surfaces, why is it that you folks need so many tattoos?  The times, are indeed a-changin’.

p.s. Just to clarify, I have nothing at all against tattoos and think it’s great if you get them. Many of my close friends have had them for years and most of them are quite beautiful. Tweeting is (as of yet) another matter.  I like Twitter, but can’t find a good use for it.


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