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« More on These Kids These Days | Main | Elsewhere »

August 28, 2003

More on These Kids These Days Redux


Your posting, More on These Kids These Days, got me to thinking about the whole notion of generational perspectives…and, of course, the really important perspective: mine.

It strikes me that as a 'baby boomer,' despite the constant propaganda I heard in my youth, I haven't spent much time at the cutting edge of history. In fact, I would say that I’ve actually lived in a rather more stable world than either my immediate ancestors did or my children are likely to live in.

This is of course a highly subjective notion, but I offer the example of my grandfather. He was born in 1890 and lived into the 1970s. Technologically he saw the introduction of flight, automobiles, movies, television, recorded music, atomic energy, spaceflight, ICBMs, antibiotics, etc. Militarily he fought in WWI, sent his son and son-in-law off to WWII and advised his grandchildren to avoid Vietnam. Economically he witnessed the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and the postwar affluence. In comparison, I have to admit I’ve lived in a pretty stable universe.

My feeling is that the after a sort of 30-year-lull (during which advances in information technology and telecommunications had the biggest impact on my everyday life), the pace of change seems to be picking up again. With advances in biotechnology, nanotechnology and neuroscience, I’m thinking things are going to start getting weird again—possibly as weird as seeing airplanes flying must have been to someone born around the Civil War.

Now maybe society has “internalized” the ability to absorb technological change easier than in previous eras. (I think the huge social upheavals from the relatively modest technological changes of the early industrial revolution were, in part, a consequence of living in societies that simply had no experience with that sort of change at all. Which is not to criticize those first few generations. Heck, at least they didn’t react by dreaming up things like Fascism, Communism and concentration camps.) I certainly hope this is true, but as a congenitally hopeful pessimist, I have my moments of doubt.

As Saul Bellow once remarked, the predominant “modern” emotion is suspense—how will it all turn out? I certainly find this suspense to be heightened by the act of parenthood.

At some times I find my thoughts on my children’s future to be summarized in some lines of dialogue from a 1940’s era "love on the run" movie. A young woman on the lam from the law asks her husband if their baby will ever know any peace or security. The man turns toward her and says, unsentimentally: "He'll have to take his chances, the same as the rest of us."

At other times I’m more hopeful, and, my feelings can be summarized by a quote taken from Nietzsche: “Man is an animal that can find its way in any maze.”

Where do you, as more of a congenital (if cranky) optimist come out on all of this?



P.S. I haven't checked those quotes, so they should be presented with the disclaimer "or words to that effect." Hey, what do you want from my nearly 50-year-old brain: an accurate memory?

posted by Friedrich at August 28, 2003


Hey, watch who you're calling a congenital optimist!

But, like you, I've also compared the changes we've seen with the changes our grandparents saw, which for me boil down to: they were born into a world without cars. By the time they died, people had visited the moon. Nothing we've been through compares, IMHO.

I sometimes notice that the younger people around have what I'd normally think of as a very floaty, noncomittal attitude, just knockin' around from one thing to the next. Which disturbs me. But then I think, hmm, maybe it's a functional adaptation to new conditions -- a good and effective way of surfing your way through and contending with an ever-proliferating, always-comin'-at-you multimedia universe. And maybe something even a geezer can learn a bit from.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 28, 2003 3:10 PM

I think your faith in humans to handle things is often related to what you've been through yourself. While Audrey Hepburn may not be an obvious choice for pragmatic social insight, her life story actually was quite remarkable: Born the daughter of a Dutch baroness, her father abandoned the family when she was 9, and the Nazis invaded Holland when she was 10. They took over her family's estate as a headquarters in Arnheim, and she and her mother had to live in the basement, and she saw two stepbrothers join the underground and one captured and sent off to a concentration camp. She carried notes for the resistance movement in her shoes to and from School. By the final winter of the war, there was nothing to eat but tulips. Tulips. She was so malnourished by the end of the war, she almost died. Then she moved to London, got discovered by Colette to play her "Gigi", got discovered by William Wyler to play his princess in "Roman Holiday", won an Oscar at 24, had two kids and five miscarriages, and moved to Switzerland ( a nice, pretty, NEUTRAL country). She refused to live in the German-speaking part, though. Obviously, at the end of her life, she was an ambassador for Unicef, bringing attention to children in, yes, wartorn countries.

And she said two things: About the 'younger' generation (s), she said, "They'll take their time the way we took ours." Very simply. No melodrama.

And about the world in general. "Retaining one's humanity is the most important thing. It doesn't matter what the world has or does, if we lose our sense of humanity, we have lost everything." Well, when you've been through a brutal Nazi occupation...

Posted by: annette on August 28, 2003 3:46 PM

"... a very floaty, noncommittal attitude, just knocking' around from one thing to the next."

I am not suggesting that film is history. However, the final scene of "Days of Heaven" presents a young girl who is facing a lifetime of knockin' around from one thing to the next."

The idea of certainty - as in these kids today don't worry about it - is new and novel as far as human history goes.

Bert: Hey there, fellow serf! What are you going to do if you live long enough to grow up?
Ernie: Oh, gee, I dunno fellow serf. Hope no one accuses me of being a leper or a witch as part of a ploy to take my stuff, I guess.

Not saying this "floaty" attitude you speak of isn't there, just that it's probably not a sign of end times.

Posted by: j.c. on August 30, 2003 5:45 PM

But then I think, hmm, maybe it's a functional adaptation to new conditions -- a good and effective way of surfing your way through and contending with an ever-proliferating, always-comin'-at-you - YUP

Posted by: beeeatch on September 15, 2003 1:15 AM

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