Young People Are Grim

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For years, I’ve been trying to figure out why young people are so relentlessly grim.  And, I’m not just talking about millennials — the You-Can’t-Have-Any-Ice cream generation.  It’s their children as well, now called Generation Z, as if this is the end of the line for the human species.  These folks — pretty much anyone born after 1980 — spend their days acting like corporate accountants who’ve just had a root canal.  They could give lessons to Puritans, for God’s sake!  And (have you ever noticed?) they always laugh with their teeth clenched – kinda like a Terminator trying to smile.

And there’s no reason for it.  We live at the apex of human achievement.  There’s more good stuff now — and less bad stuff — than at any other time in history.  There should be dancing in the streets.  So, what’s the deal?  Simple: cell phones.  Most young people wander around with a stick up their ass because they know if they step out of line, somebody’s going to video record it, and 20 seconds later they’re going to look like total morons – across the entire planet!  Plus, the Internet never forgets.  Whatever they say or do today, may come back and haunt them, 10 years from now, when social standards change.  This is peer pressure to the Nth degree, and the only way to escape it is keep your head down.  Don’t give the cybermob an excuse to come after you.  In other words, bland is best.

When I was a kid, I did some stupid things. In my generation, we all did. It was part of growing up.  You learned, sometimes painfully, not to be a jackass.  However, there was no permanent record in those days.  My transgressions were shared, laughed at and admonished by a very small group – who (mostly) had my best interests at heart.  Now, time on, they’ve been forgotten, except on rare occasions when old friends get together and play Remember When.  I carry no brand for strangers to judge.

These days, young people don’t live with that luxury.  They’re all sitting under a cyber Sword of Damocles, one upload away from, at best, humiliation and at worst, disgrace and total ruin.  They not only have to fly right, right now; they have to see into the future and measure up, and that has got to be a full time job.  It’s no wonder they’re all trudging along as if somebody just shot their puppy.

Our Imaginary World

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Here in the West, we live in the most luxurious, benevolent society in history.  On a daily basis, most of our needs, wants and desires are fulfilled without any of us having to lift a finger.  (Well, that’s not strictly true: we do have to tap a screen or click a mouse.)  Our ancestors may have had to wake up in the morning, hunt, kill and cook their own breakfast, but our world isn’t built that way.  In fact, our survival is so totally guaranteed that the major activity of most folks west of the Vistula is the relentless pursuit of entertainment.  We spend hours playing video games, binge-watching television and scrolling along with that good old-fashioned standby, “surfing the Net.”  The problem is humans aren’t supposed to live in a virtual utopia.  As a species, we dominate this planet because the heart of our existence is adversity.  We need problems the way a shepherd needs sheep.  Without them, he’s just some guy sitting on his ass in a pasture, no purpose in life and no meaning.  A dismal existence at best.  So, when the most perplexing decision we make every day is which Netflix series when, we’ve started to make things up.  We’re manufacturing trouble, hardship and bother to satisfy an intrinsic need in our soul.  Here are just a couple of examples of imaginary difficulties we’ve created out of thin air.

Last week, some YouTube influencer broke up with her boyfriend.  No big deal: romantic drama is one of the high octane fuels we use for Cyberspace travel.  However, after the tears, a lot of emojis and changing her Facebook status, our girl discovered she had an even bigger problem.  She had no idea how to break the sad news to her cat.  That’s right – her cat!  Her concern was Fluffy (not the cat’s real name) would be devastated by the breakup, and she wanted to smooth over the emotional trauma.  Apparently, she’s been soliciting opinions over several social media platforms and, — here’s the weird part — people are trying to help with actual advice.

Meanwhile, in another part of the cyber-forest, there’s a growing concern that quite a few YouTube celebrities and reality TV stars (male and female) are being offered money (a lot of money) for sex.  These offers are coming through Social Media and are sparking a lot of debate over the nature of 21st century privacy, the liberties taken with celebrities and what exactly constitutes prostitution.  Fair enough, but seriously, money for sex is not a nuanced philosophical question.  It’s pretty straightforward: yes, let’s negotiate; and no, you’re an asshole —  end of story.  And, although one celeb who took the money called it “a targeted relationship that progresses over time,” most of the rest of us are under no such illusion.

And finally:

Last Monday was “Blue Monday” which, according to thousands of anonymous sources, is the saddest day of the year.  WTF?  Has our world become so emotionally bland we need to designate a day to crack out the Kleenex?”  In a more civilized time, this kinda crap would never even come up on the panel.  These days, we’re discussing it as if it were real.  It’s not.  And just for the record, Blue Monday was actually invented in 2005 by a vacation company called Sky Travel to sell — wait for it! – vacations.

I’m Crap At Social Media

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I love Social Media.  I think it’s one of the coolest benefits of living in the 21st century.  It’s as if the Internet has given us a gigantic cocktail party.  Unfortunately, I’m crap at it.  The problem is, for the life of me, I don’t understand how it works.  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  I know the techno-gabble that keeps it together – you post, I post, somebody else posted, we all click “like” or “share” or some such other thing and walk away happy – but after that, I’m lost.  And I truly believe that’s why I’ve never actually been invited to the party.

First of all, I’m old enough to remember pen and paper.  This is a major disadvantage.  Back in the day, when you had something to say, you had to stop, take a minute, think about it, and then take pen in hand.  This forced even the stupidest among us to try and present a comprehensive idea and back it up with a cohesive argument.  Social Media is a lot faster than that.  So, as a consequence, I’m just not intellectually prepared to take a Facebook meme, an Instagram photo or a 140 character treatise on the evils of supply-side economics all that seriously.

Secondly, there’s just so damn much of it.  Social Media is everywhere – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, Pinterest – God Almighty!  It never ends.  The sheer volume of relentless information is overwhelming.  No wonder people are wandering around the streets like zombies, thumb-numbing their telephones.  Personally, I don’t have enough hours or energy to sort through the Cute Cat Videos, the angry Trump Tweets and recipes for pan-fried kale to get to the good stuff – forget respond.

And finally, I’m not absolutely certain I want to spend a lot of time chasing Social Media.  I’m all for sharing ideas and discussing them ad infinitum.  (I’m usually the last man standing at real cocktail parties.)  However, for my money, people who think what they had for lunch (or where they had it) is noteworthy, need to reread their Copernicus.  Most of the trivia of everyday existence is – uh – trivial, and recording it across Cyberspace doesn’t give it any extra significance.

It’s not Social Media’s fault I can’t figure it out.  The fact is, in human years, Social Media is still a teenager, and we all know what an emotional and intellectual game of hopscotch that is.  So, for the time being, go in peace, Social Media.  Maybe, in a few years, I’ll be a little smarter and you’ll be a little older — and then you and I can have an adult conversation.