These Kids Today

Boy, these kids today…

Okay wait. In this essay I will try as hard as I possibly can to not sound like a curmudgeon old man playing croquet on the front lawn – loafers, black socks, shorts, Hawaiian shirt and a fedora – and mumbling incessantly about “these kids today.” Seeming like a myopic, socially conservative, old man – or, worse yet, actually being that man and not realizing it – is, in fact, my preeminent concern as I formulate and try to justify supremely contentious opinions.

It is common knowledge that men have been castigating younger generations almost as long as there have been younger generations. Aristotle and Plato, their ideas infused with an elitist concern for virtue, sometimes sound like fist-shaking members of a retirement community – periodically pausing between shuffleboard tournaments to formulate ground-breaking theories in metaphysics, ethics, and epistemology. To the half of the population that sits above the median age the world is always going to hell-in-a-hand-basket carried by an unsuspecting teenager with an ever-increasing number of piercings, steadily more dissonant music, and only a few inches away from full-frontal nudity. Or, in the case of Aristotle and Plato’s time, civilization was imperiled by raucous kids who had the audacity to sing poetic ballads in an ABBAB rhyming scheme, write drama without tragic hubris, and wear clothes while wrestling. “First thing you have women showing their ankles and next thing you know it husbands and wives will be sleepin’ in the same bed and then, before you know it, Arnold Schwarzenegger will be governor of California. Total anarchy.” But, the slippery slopes always prove have traction. In other words, yesterday’s generational disputes seem comical as new status quos assert themselves and the world continues to be a generally nice place to live.

In short, comments that begin with “these kids today” reek of an unrepentant head-up-your-own-ass-ness that I am fully aware of to the point of neurosis. Disclaimers are required. This essay will not try to make oblique value judgments on the behavior of age groups. Instead, I will try to be descriptive on differences that I believe are clear and quantifiable. I will attempt to extract any value judgments from justified implications of my descriptions. So with all this being said…

Boy, these kids today…

I’m 24. I have some measure of disquietude about this fact and I am not precisely sure why. One reason is the arbitrary subdivisions of time we create in our heads. When you are between 20-23 you are in your “early twenties.” However, I have crossed that evanescent line into my mid-twenties – and I still really really want [this]( http://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.gsp?product_id=3129442) for Christmas (Who wouldn’t? 30 inches! That comes up to your knee!). But I digress, I believe that my unease is mainly caused by my being consistently made aware that I am no longer a kid, or even a young adult. I am quite possibly an adult. Well yes, I’ll just say it; I am an adult.

Someone asked me the other day what is significantly different about being 24. I thought for a short time and said, “well, you start to become vaguely unsettled when you are attracted to 17 and 18 year-old girls.” This is true, and many guys may agree with me. However, what is interesting about this is not the sexual implications it entails, but the self-categorization implications it entails. When such attraction begins to unsettle you it is a sign that you no longer think of yourself in the same category as 17-18 year-olds – a category during which, of course, you were wholly justified and expected to be attracted to women that age. You now find yourself approaching the same category that contains creepy old men who pat waitresses on the ass and make jokes about their new Viagra prescription. Maybe not to that extreme, but you get my point.

But this fact is peripheral to my point. Yes, probably for most men there came a point in their lives when they became aware that attraction to 17 year-old girls was stretching the limits of social acceptability. However, I am now realizing that the gap that separates me from Juniors and Seniors in high school is approaching generational. Technically, I am in the same generation as these young adults, but I generally feel miles apart from them.

Again, this is probably a realization everyone experiences as teenagers become increasingly foreign. The ultimate conclusion of this progression is an encounter with a group of teenagers, say in a shopping mall, in which you earnestly wonder whether or not they are dressed for some sort of off-season costume party, belong to some up-and-coming religious sect with a penchant for red plaid and zippers, or (gasp!) they actually wear such ridiculous outfits. And then, for a split second you hear yourself saying, “jeez, these kids today, don’t they have parents?” Well, congratulations, you are officially old.

However, I am certainly not old. While I certainly don’t have the ability, or desire, to adjust to the breakneck currents and startling vicissitudes of pop-culture with the savoir-faire of teenagers, I still retain the kind of youthful exuberance that lets me freely manipulate my facial hair into new and exciting designs, liberally use the word “sweet,” and occasionally, if only occasionally, scream profanities in parking lots. But, as this essay’s title clearly states, I do periodically stop and say to myself, “jeez, these kids today.”

And my opinions are certainly not without data. Having worked in a restaurant for a significant amount of time in which the employees range from 16-40 years-old, and the majority are below 21, I have lately spent more time with teenagers than most people my age. Otherwise, I wouldn’t feel so “old,” or, if I did, I wouldn’t feel I had sufficient data to back up my opinions.

As I said before; I am very self-conscious about using such tired, familiar, ‚Äúold man‚Äù rhetoric. But at 24, particularly as a 24 year-old who has deftly avoided the conspicuous outward trimmings of adulthood ‚Äì i.e. a progressive career in which you can ‚Äúrise to the top,‚Äù a long-term girlfriend/fianc?©/wife, a mortgage, a well-kept house adorned with pieces of sturdy, non hand-me-down furniture not made from particle board and cinder blocks, and whatever else signifies the subtle shift to maturity ‚Äì I am aware that ‚Äúfeeling old‚Äù is not to be expected.

But the reasons for this premature generational separation are quite clear. The world has significantly changed. I graduated high school in 1998; a time in which the world was on the cusp of an information and communication revolution that it had not yet wholly embraced. In 1998 cell phones were a distinct reality but not yet the ubiquitous phenomenon that causes movie theaters and airplanes to call special attention to their incessant interloping. My high school had no rules delegating the use of cell phones because the problem was far from pressing. Now, every high school has strict rules that are absolutely necessary to keep classes from becoming singing choruses of computer generated familiar classical melodies.

Likewise, the internet, while an emerging force in the world, was still nascent and underdeveloped. It was certainly underutilized. As a freshman at the University of Missouri I had my first encounter with broadband internet – and only then as a communal computer used by an entire dorm floor. CD burners were still an exorbitantly priced luxury that allowed the one guy on the floor who owned one to create a money-making bonanza. Downloading music was brand new and absolutely amazing. Email and instant-messaging were just emerging and were not yet the essential tools they have become.

Now, these items of technology have not just transformed the world of business and commerce, but they have become the world in which teenagers operate in. With current 18 year-olds being only 12 or 11 in 1998, only broaching upon world-awareness, the modern world is one that they do not know, at least beyond the boredom-inducing nostalgic musings of us fogies, ever existed otherwise. Teenagers, who, by their very nature, already move at a pace that far eclipses that of adults ‚Äì knowing what is pass?© before adults can even know it was hip ‚Äì were suddenly thrust into the world of technology ‚Äì which was already setting land-speed records of its own. The marriage of the two was like putting instant coffee in the microwave ‚Äì the speed was torrential.

Imagine being a teenager and having a cell phone of your own – the freedom and self-sufficiency that it brings. Imagine being able to download any hit song you want for free without having to wait to spend earned money on carefully chosen albums that must satiate you for a significant amount of time. Likewise for movies and video games which can both be downloaded with almost no effort. Imagine being able to use the internet to gather instant information on any subject you wish – sex, fads, rumors, etc. How much has your life changed because of these things in just a few short years? Now imagine feeding this typhoon of information and communication into a 17 year-old hopped-up on hormones and the now omni-present Starbucks caffeine. I think you’re starting to get my point. Teenager’s lives have always been lived in New York minutes. They now they live in New York seconds.

And the signs of it are everywhere. “TRL,” or “Total Request Live,” is MTV’s daily homage to all that is young, hip, and – this is just a personal opinion – totally stupid. Now, as a young boy (13-14 or so, it certainly appeals to the younger end of the teenage spectrum) I also watched this show. I reveled in the latest Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Dr. Dre, and Guns ‘n’ Roses videos. I remember one year when I watched it nearly every day after school in which when I must have seen Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” video approximately 14 million times. And that doesn’t count weekends. However, every time I watched the video I saw the whole thing. The opening and closing shots still stick out in my mind. But, the modern incarnation of TRL does something that, to me, is terribly bizarre and ridiculous. It only shows approximately one-third of every video – the first minute and last minute of the song being cut out. Basically, Carson Daly and his crew give the audience a catchy verse, a real hooky chorus, and that’s it.

This fact befuddled me until I realized it was inexorably tied to the aforementioned qualities of modern youth culture. Since the emergence of ‚Äúpop-culture‚Äù ‚Äì a non-provincial system of popular likes and dislikes spread by mediums of mass-communication (i.e. radio, TV, the internet) ‚Äì youth culture has been a replacement culture ‚Äì constantly exchanging the old for the new, the pass?© for the hip. Now, with the speed of mass communication reaching near-convulsive levels, the replacement culture has sped up in tune. Now, they can‚Äôt even get through a song before they want another one. Teenagers, since the advent of rock music, have always been single-song oriented groups ‚Äì songs that are catchy for awhile, have their time, and are lost into the ever-changing miasma of pop-culture kitsch. However, the new techno-youth will make that reality even starker.

Okay, hold up Trevor. I feel myself slowly encroaching into the “crotchety old man” realm. However, I believe my points and observations hold-up. This essay was originally fostered out of the desire to see if I could justify my feelings – to see if facts lay behind my old-fogy emotions that I frankly felt I was too young to be having. And, I believe my observations do hold up.

In short, the techno-social fabric of society, particularly the society of youth, has radically changed and I have been lucky enough to experience both sides of the gap. I suspect that the feeling is not radically different from being a Senior in high school in 1953 and then seeing Seniors in 1959 – a post Elvis, post Jerry Lee Lewis, post Buddy Holly rock ‘n’ roll world – and wondering what the hell is going on.

And maybe I am just masquerading personal annoyances as justified social theory. But, the world isn’t going to hell-in-a-hand-basket and this is still a world that is a nice place to live and is getting nicer all the time. It isn’t a better or worse world, just really different. The change in youth culture – the new attitude of “these kids today “– is just another aspect of a world we will all have to come to accept. Me, I think I’ll watch the video for “Black Hole Sun” I downloaded and then get on to a nice spell of fist-shaking at the kids in the neighborhood. I have the black socks, shorts, and fedora all picked out.

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5 Responses to These Kids Today

  1. Sirveri says:

    Trevor, one real question?

    We are exactly the same age, and well, I’m not sure if this is my personel experiences talking, or you interacting with youngsters more than me, or if one of us happens to be more intelectually developed or what-the-fuck-ever. But…

    Why do you care?

    Or, I guess, you don’t care, you just happened to find it interesting, which I guess it sort of is interesting. (In my class of ’98 they actually did have rules about cell phones in class, hurray for the youth of affluence). To which I say, thanks for sharing, that is if you really don’t care all that much and were just pointing something out.

  2. Mathew says:

    A pleasant enough read, but what exactly was the point?
    That things are changing faster than before?
    If so, isn’t that obvious.

  3. Trevor Burrus says:

    This certainly isn’t an issue that is keeping me up at night. In short, I don’t particularly really “care” in a way that sends me into convulsive fits.

    However, “social theory,” if I may be so bold to call my piece that, often seems inconsequential. But, I guess since I am surrounded by teenagers of the ilk I wrote about I find the matter to be more real. I found myself wondering why they were so different. So, this article is me “wondering why” aloud.

    More or less Sirveri called it right: I don’t really care all that much I was just pointing something out and trying to write interestingly about it.

    However, since I tried to devoid my piece of obvious value judgments, in order to avoid sounding like a head-up-my-ass conservative, its descriptive quality does give it a cold, observant tone. Because it isn’t evaluative the piece doesn’t rile many nerves.

    But I do have some value judgments about this “generation” that show why I care a little bit more past stoic observation. I think the increased speed of a replacement culture is anathema to creating a populace that isn’t hell-bent on instant gratification.

    When I was about 12 I would buy albums for singles – simple songs that I loved from the radio. I would listen to the song until my parents wanted to strangle me. And then, I would be done with it and it would become part of the debris of my room, and the detritus of my brain. However, at some point I found myself listening to the rest of the album – perhaps as the song I liked ended and the tape ran into the next. As I learned to like that song, and then the song after etc, I soon found that I liked those songs more than the one I bought the album for (I believe the first album to have this effect was Stone Temple Pilots “Core”). I had experienced something that we all know in our hearts; that something you grow and learn to like is better than something you like immediately.

    I term this the “Monty Python Effect,” refering to the fact that Monty Python, while certainly funny, is never more funny than the first time you see it. This is distinctly different than things that grow more funny, i.e. Space Ghost, Christopher Guest movies, “The Big Lebowski,” etc.

    I fear that the supersonic replacement culture – being able to download songs, movies, music with ease, being able to adjust to trends with alarming speed (thinking something is stupid you thought was cool two weeks ago, never giving it a chance) – may be parasitic to the type of non-superficial, accumulated appreciation one can have for something.

    Anyway, this is just an example of some of the problems that may result from this. Keep in mind that these are problems in MY mind, filtered through how I value the world. However, since they are my values, and I have them and not others, I must think that they are, in some sense, “right.”

    So, maybe I do care…if only a little.

  4. John Poor says:

    Despite your best efforts, I think the curmudgeonly element of your writing shone through more vibrantly than did the groundbreaking social theory. Sorry 🙂

  5. G.C. Hotz says:

    Hey,

    I’m one of those “Kids” (junior in HS) living in the ever evolving world. However, I don’t quite experience the speed of it all. Here’s my point:

    -I just got an MSN account three month’s ago
    -I have a cell phone-but never leave it on!
    -My “style” is about 30 year’s old…and that never changes!
    -My “Music” is also 30 years old.
    -I have no Cable. The only reason I know TRL exists is because I saw it in “Josie and the Pussycats” (Which wasn’t too bad a movie. Really struck at the mass marketing problem!)

    So I don’t get caught up in all the “excitement” of today’s youth! But I do agree, it’s moving SO fast. All my friends are so into everything, but I just don’t care.

    Wait? Do I even have a point? Well, yes: Not all of youth is as absorbed as you make us out to be. However, I’d estimate those who aren’t in the “mainstream” to be about .01% of the total youth population! So…no, I don’t have a point, but it was a highly entertaining article. Made me think about the youth I’m going to complain about missing out on when I’m an old man (24 years old)!!!

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