Talkin’ ’bout the i-Generation!

If you’re reading this, chances are good you were born in the 20th century.  If you weren’t, put this down, you precocious little beast, and go out and play.  For the rest of us, the 20th century was the cradle, the nursery, and probably most of the education of our existence.  As Herman Raucher once said, “It is our time, and we’ll never leave it.”  To us, it’s our life.  It’s not history; it’s memory.  The great events we witnessed are coupled with our birthdays, divorces, new cars and houses.  However, in a couple of hundred years (or maybe a thousand) when people look at our time, they’re going to draw a sharp line between the 20th and 21st centuries.  They’re going to separate us like exhibits in a museum.  Right now, we exist simultaneously in both centuries, like two pages of a book — totally different, yet intimately touching at every point and completely useless without the other.  In the future, however, we are going to be one thing and those precocious little beasts poking away at their iPads are going to be another.

As much as most people would like to deny it, we are the cumulative result of history.  There is a direct line from you and me back to the dim reaches of time, when the epic human struggle was merely to stand on our own two feet.  For example, if I wanted to be an intellectual smart-ass, I could trace the birth of our world back to shoddy obstetrics in the Imperial court of Prussia in 1859.  Or I could research (plagiarize is such a hard word) Paul Johnson and go back even further to a Frenchman’s hemorrhoids at the dawn of the 19th century.   My point, of course, is that there is no start to history — only final judgements passed on the results.

Our current 21st century’s i-Generation is a perfect example.  These are the kids who are adapting our world to Facebook and Google, one app at a time.  They’ve changed Wikipedia from a slightly tawdry secret to a tolerated research tool.  They are intent on sharing, not personal experience, but data with the world.  In the future, they will be judged in isolation.  Nobody will bother looking at the seeds and shallow roots provided for them.  Their obsession with consumption rather than creation will be seen as a character flaw – an aberration which was always destined to kill or cure our fat, wheezing planet.  Yet, the i-Generation didn’t just appear one day like Athena springing from the head of Zeus, nor is it even fully grown yet.  It still depends on Generation Y for its existence.

Generation Y! — those 80’s babies who can’t seem to decide if they are a stand-alone product of the Baby Boom or only just an echo.  Constantly harassed about the dangers awaiting them, these are the folks whose abilities have always outshone their underdeveloped egos.  They risk little and expect much.  Their literature is the graphic novel; their art, the expressive font; and their technological advances are made on the playing fields of virtual reality.  Generation Y stands alone — with its devices connected to the planet but they, themselves utterly isolated from it.  Not since the Dark Ages have humans been so devoid of contact with the outside world.  Generation Y lives and works in a series of separate technological villages, timidly toiling like Copeland’s microserfs, afraid to venture beyond their firewalls.  But they, too, did not arrive fully formed like a Botticelli Venus rising from the ocean’s foam.  They are the children of Generation X.

Generation X, the first generation of the Age of Entertainment.  They showed up just in time to see America leave the Moon, never to return, and George Lucas unleash his Jedi to battle the Death Star.  Raised on Sesame Street and Cocoa Puff cartoons, Generation X has never understood why the world doesn’t play nice like its television friends do.  Completely overshadowed, Gen X was forgotten and left to fend for itself.  As it saw the brave old world bending under the weight of its uber-ego parents, it could only step back in fear of the imminent collapse of power, oil and profit and seek salvation in Spielberg and Scorsese.  Still, we must remember Generation X was never abandoned like the solitary child of the goddess Hera, twice tossed from heaven. It was born into the rarified air of the Baby Boom.  It cut its teeth on impending disaster, with only discredited institutions and disassembled Gods to comfort it.

And so it goes; back and back, each generation shaped by the wants and fears of the ones preceding it.  If history judges the early 21th century harshly, it will be because the i-Generation believes that clicking Like on Facebook can change the world.  Yet, it is we, from the 20th century, who taught them that.  I-Gen is the product of two generations of constraint and constriction.  The Xs and Ys watched the world of their parents and grandparents falter, assailed on all sides by everything from financial ruin to pandemic disease.  So they taught their children to be wary, to keep their distance and to “Stay strong.”

John F. Kennedy spoke of his generation (what we call “The Greatest Generation”) as “born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.”  I don’t have many regrets, but I do regret not being able to hear what the i-Generation will eventually say about itself.

The Bucket List

In a couple of months, the first of the Baby Boomer generation is going to turn 65.  While I welcome their demise, this is going to be a disaster of Biblical proportion.  The Grim Reaper has just kicked sand in the face of the biggest bully of all time, and the Boomers are not going to go quietly.  If we could have harnessed the energy produced by the collective egos of the Baby Boom, our dependence on fossil fuels would have been over – instantaneously.  Now, as they face extinction, the final flares of conceit are going to be awesome.  Prepare yourself, world.  For the next 10 years — at least — life as we know it is going to be put on hold while we hear endless variations of The Bucket List.  It’s already started.

Of course, like absolutely everything they ever got their mitts on, the Boomers are going to turn this into an all-consuming adventure.  They’re going to throw around words like “growth” and “healing” and “personal experience,” but, in the end, it’s going to be all about who’s got the most stuff.  There’ll to be books, websites, luggage, coffee cups, furniture, how-tos, greeting cards, television shows — Oh, God, just kill me now!  And forget about travel in the next decade because you’re going to be up to your elbows in old people — and not cool old people either.  It’s going to be those tidy buggers who have taken so much Vitamin I they glow in the dark.  Every chapter of Lonely Planet is going to be filled with creaky old farts and fartesses doing stupid stuff to demonstrate to the world they haven’t lost it – yet.  Skydiving, hang gliding, motorcycle riding and all the other bone-breaking challenges will be full up for the next couple of years.  The broken hips alone are going to confuse future archaeologists for centuries.  And don’t even bother about Kilimanjaro: you’ll be trampled in the stampede.  I haven’t even mentioned poetry, novel writing, painting or modern dance.  One complete generation is going to be scrambling around, trying to cram a lifetime of “meaningful experiences” into the quality years between the retirement dinner and the rest home.  Good luck, ‘cause it ain’t gonna fit!  But the worst thing about it, is, long before the gondolas in Venice fill up, they’re all going to want to talk about it.  Justify it. Analyze it.  Discuss it, and explain their reasons why.  Here’s the reason why: you clowns never just DID anything in your entire life, so now you need a Bucket List to motivate your ass?

Look, I’m sorry you missed a chance at Mary Elizabeth in grade 11.  I’m sorry you didn’t go home with Juan Carlos when you were backpacking through Spain in ‘71.  I’m sorry you spent more time renovating your house than living in it.  I`m sorry you never drove a Lamborghini and I`m sorry you missed the Pyramids.  (If Mubarak doesn’t hit the road soon, I’m going to miss them, too!)  Here`s the truth of it. Though.  Nobody sets out to have a meaningful life; it just happens that way.  Crossing off your experiences like items on a grocery list is not going to coax it along.  And here`s another revelation: it’s not a contest.  Just because you think up some esoteric activity you plan to do before you take the dirt nap, that doesn’t make you  more sensitive, imaginative or  smarter than the next guy.  So don’t strut around like you’ve just captured the flag on the moral high ground.  Finally, and most importantly, nobody but you cares why you want to throw a pebble into the Black Sea, and if you bring it up again, somebody is going to slap you.

Personally I think everybody should have a Bucket List.  I have one.  I wrote it when I was 12 – the first time.  The problem I have with Bucket Lists is that Baby Boomers have always had this uncanny ability to spread their regrets over everything they touch.  They taint everything with disappointment.  Then, they have an unholy need to prance their problems publicly.  They think it is somehow virtuous.  This latest incarnation, the Bucket List, started off as something whimsical, even magical (if you will) but it’s rapidly turning into a hit parade of songs not sung, roads not taken and opportunities missed.  It’s been hijacked by the followers of the gospel according to Lennon “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”   The plain fact is Lennon was wrong.  Every life is a continuum of “101 Things I Want To Do Before I Die.” Most people figure that out early.  If you don’t have a Bucket List throughout you’re life, you’re a dolt.  But if you’re depending on it to make the final arc to immortality for you, you’ve done something horribly wrong.