I recently read Jennifer Rooney’s submission on the Apple ‘Misunderstod’ holiday ad as an encouragement of connection to the virtual world, at the expense of the real world. I could not disagree more. My disagreement has nothing to do with Apple, although I’m a big Apple fan. My dissension is more on the subject of culture, which the piece spent so much time on.
This year has been about the most ‘shared’ year in the history of online sharing, and the US Thanksgiving and Hanukkah holidays were the busiest days on Instagram. We are becoming more and more drawn to sharing little bits of our lives on social media. We are more likely to stop for a moment to capture the moment, and this is the cornerstone of Jennifer Rooney’s criticism. But I am inclined to look deeper – the criticism owes it’s origin toa rather more commonplace practice: the dismissal of a later generation, based on nothing more than it’s emerging culture.
Every generation of teenagers has been accused of one anti-social vice or other. It’s part of generational reductionist contempt, meant to either make the younger generation appear less accomplished than they potentially are, or condemn a popular culture that is different to the one the older generation grew up in.
The immediate past generation, my generation, was accused of bare brigandage for listening to, and growing hip hop into a worldwide phenomenon. Later on, as cellphones became more ubiquitous, the generation was accused of choosing to text, rather than make a call on those cellphones it quickly became addicted to.
The hippy generation were accused in America of being, well, too hippy. They were mostly seen as not patriotic enough, and hazed out by pot and phychedelic drugs. But guess who drove the biggest technology revolution the world has ever seen? Yep, that drugged out generation.
That generation produced Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. They produced Richard Branson and forever changed the way the world saw computers. For a generation that was generally written off, that’s a handy legacy to leave behind.
And the Internet generation? My generation. We were too soft. For most of our years, we were too addicted to the Internet and computers, not producing useful enough engineers and civil servants, and too stupid to not aim for vocations with more job security.
The jury is still out on our generation, but we have already given the world Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. My generation is driving more startup growth than any other generation since the hippies changed the world.
It did happen that after the accusations of cellphone addiction were made against my generation, my parents generation ended up adopting cellphones in huge numbers. Parents adapted, and rather than call, sent more text messes to their kids. After the social media was roundly condemned by the same generation of my parents, the generation before them (my grandparents) quickly became one of the largest demographic on Facebook. Teenagers are now abandoning Facebook for their parents, who are now sharing like never before. So sharing my not be so bad at all.
Every generation develops it’s own culture. It is often the case that each generation’s signature habit is built on what was available to them. An example is that when telephones first became urban necessities, the parent’s in the country could never understand why their children preferred to make telephone calls, rather than visit them in person.
So why are we bothered that the present generation of teenagers spend too much time on their smartphones, and would rather chat with their friends than their grandparents?
It is imperative to note that this generation of teenagers will be the ones defining the future they’ll live in. Not their parents, not their grandparents, but them. So they just may be more prepared to live in their own future than anyone else, just like every other teenage generation has always been more prepared for the future than the generations which came before them.
The future has never stayed still. The future evolves. Because if this evolution, the things which guarantee success in the future also evolve with time. Before we accuse another generation of lacking in greatness on account of it’s habits, we must ask ourselves “how did we turn out, despite our own cool addictions?”