Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Just Because We Get Around

Hello readers, it's been a while. Thanks for hanging in there to those of you still checking in.

I'm sure you've heard of Generation Me. You've probably also heard that our generation is the most self centered and entitled generation in history. Well, since I'm always up for railing against the ills of our society, and getting into an argument over just about anything, I thought it might be time for a little "Smack Talk."

We try to get to the bottom of whether this generation is, in fact, the greediest and most self centered in our history, or whether we're just a misunderstood group facing an uphill climb not seen in this country for nearly a century.

To those of you who think we end up sounding like typical Generation Me-ers: Get your own damn blog.

Feel free to weigh in by posting a comment, and enjoy

Blogometrics: I heard somewhere the other day that this generation - "Generation Me" - which was assigned to anyone from 24-36 (a bit large for a generation if you ask me), was the most entitled in American history - meaning, we expect the most return for the least amount invested. Do you agree with this?

Smack: I would say that is way large for a generation. That would almost put you and Jason (my 23 year old brother) together. At first glance I disagreed, but then I read a little about “Generation Me” and it seems to mean that we have been ingrained with a “self first” philosophy. Not in a selfish way, but just that we are taught to cultivate the self more so than thinking of society first. That might be true.

B: I would agree about the "self-first" attitude, but I look at it this way:

Prior generations HAVE received more return on their investments. Take my parents, for example. In 1975, they bought a house for $52,000. Their combined income, both on jobs gained with no college degree, was just over half that amount. Today, some one in their late 20s/early 30s is probably making around $40-50,000/yr without a degree. See any houses on the market for $90,000? The cars our parents drove were never over $10,000 - and these were new, reliable cars. Even as recently as the 1990s, you could get a Toyota Camry for under $15,000 new. Now you need to spend nearly a year's salary on a new car. You may say that "you don't need a new car" - but the point is that there is a marked decrease in the quality of goods available to people who fall into this age bracket against what has been available in the past.

So, when some one like me says "I want a home" or "I want a new car" - am I acting entitled, or am I simply recognizing that past generations have had access to these things without much more of a substantial personal investment?

S: Wherever you heard about this, were they talking about entitlement and return on investment in a financial sense?If so, then I disagree. Saying we want more for our money is basically calling us cheap. If there was ever a penny pinching generation, it’s the one that is currently in nursing homes – the generation that went through the Great Depression. This current financial depression is going to produce another similar generation.

If it means return on investment in the sense of expecting more for less effort, then maybe I can see that. We’re a lazier, ADD-ridden generation.

B: But really Smack, how are we lazier?

What was it that our parents were doing with the time we spend playing video games, IM'ing each other or watching TV?

We work, in general, more than our parents did (I would put it to a bet that the average number of hours worked for a 24-36 year old has increased over the last 40 years, not decreased), yet for the most part have an equal or greater amount of social time - as we get married and start families much later than they did (this gets us back to the $$ - it takes us longer to be in a financially suitable place to undertake this). With this time, we might utilize "self-centered" technologies like cell phones, facebook, or whatever - but young(er) people have always gravitated towards this sort of behavior - from chat lines to mixers to key parties. Technology simply makes this phenomenon more personal and portable (and contributes significantly to the ADD epidemic you point to).

Now, I can see where the "self centered" and "entitled" get crossed - but to use an analogy without overly spelling it out - who would you rather be next to in the checkout line: The 26 year old Paris Hilton clone who's loudly chatting away on her cell phone and acts as if the cashier is a distraction, the 74 year old woman who argues every price, argues every coupon and pays in a combination of nickels, dimes and crumpled one dollar bills, or the 54 year old man who impatiently sighs every 6 seconds, mutters "Jesus Christ Almighty" when a price check is called for, and barks "just give me the receipt" when asked if he'd like to donate $1 to find a cure for a disease that he's hopefully stricken with one day?

I say if you look at it that way, there's plenty of "self centering" across every generation.

S: Well just from going to and working at a summer camp from like 1990 to 2000, I witnessed a transition from kids that would play a ferocious game of head-hunting dodgeball without a tear being shed, to a rash of overweight kids that would bring their Gameboys and Pokemon cards to camp and just assume sit on their fat butts all day.

B: Is that the same issue, though?

I'm not going to argue that it's disgusting to see the number of overweight and obese children and high schoolers (those who you counseled at camp have probably blossomed into diabetic 20-somethings), and it probably elicits some sort of primal, negative reaction about the fate of our society - but I still don't think that's what's meant by "entitled."

I think I should clarify: I'm using the term "entitled" and I think the spirit of the initial question is"self-entitled."

Your little campers fall into the former category. Mommy and Daddy shut those kids up with Twinkies and Pokemon, and therefore entitled the kids to act like a full generation of Augustus Gloops. How do you think it would have gone over in our houses - or the majority of houses across the country - had an 11 year old you or I said "Naw Dad, I'm not going to baseball today. I'm just going to sit down here in my room and eat KFC and play Nintendo all day. In fact, since Mom bought me a TV and a sick sound system, I'm probably never going to play a sport again."

Now, there were those kids when we were younger, the ones who didn't play sports, didn't belong to the boy scouts, didn't really have any outside interests at all, and had all the toys and candy you could imagine. They were the kids who's houses you might stumble upon once or twice on a weekend, or during the summer. Your initial reaction might have been "AWESOME!!! YOU ARE THE LUCKIEST PERSON I KNOW!!!!" But soon, after the third time of asking "You wanna ride down to 'place x' and 'engage in some sort of physical activity' with me?" and being met with a "nuh-uh" (because nothing stimulates the vocabulary like junk food, video games and a sunlight free existence), you left, and never went back.

I think this sort of thing is a bigger problem now than it was even in your campground glory days of '99-00, but I still think this is a separate issue, because A) I think the majority of the children who have been crippled by this sort of lifestyle are still just that - children - and not yet 24, and B) These kids are "entitled" by their parents, not self entitled in the way that our generation is accused of being.

S (from an Internet definition):

Who is part of Generation Me?

Generation Me describes anyone born in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s -- in 2006, this means people between the ages of 7 and 36. These are today's young people, those who take it for granted that the self comes first. I'm a member of this generation myself, born in 1971.

How is Generation Me different from previous generations, especially from the "Me generation" of the 1970s?

Baby Boomers were sometimes called the "Me generation" in the 1970s, but this was a premature and brief label: Boomers did not discover the self until young adulthood, and even then did everything in groups, from protests to seminars like est. Generation Me has never known a world that put duty before self, and believes that the needs of the individual should come first. This is not the same thing as being selfish – it is captured, instead, in the phrases we so often hear: "Be yourself," "Believe in yourself," "You must love yourself before you can love someone else." These are some of our culture's most deeply entrenched beliefs, and Generation Me has grown up hearing them whispered in our ears like the subliminally conditioned children in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

We live in a time when high self-esteem is encouraged from childhood, when young people have more freedom and independence than ever, but also far more depression, anxiety, cynicism, and loneliness. Today's young people have been raised to aim for the stars at a time when it is more difficult than ever to get into college, find a good job, and afford a house. Their expectations are very high just as the world is becoming more competitive, so there's a huge clash between their expectations and reality. More than any other generation in history, the children of Baby Boomers are disappointed by what they find when they arrive at adulthood. Generation Me will give Boomers new insight into their offspring, and help those in their teens, twenties, and thirties finally make sense of their generation.

B: We could open up a whole big can of worms with the "duty before self" and "organizing protests" piece.

I think Generation Me learned from it's parents that protests don't really work, but "community" does. I think Generation Me learned in 2000 and 2001 that there's really not a whole lot you can do about things, anyway. Would it be better if we tried? Maybe. But, could it also be argued that the famous protests of the 60s and 70s actually yielded nothing more than a sense of community that in many ways has yielded no greater benefit than have the "self centered" social networking and constant contact mentality that "our" generation has adopted? Maybe.

Here's my take: Generation Me has increased the wealth of the wealthiest Americans more so than any generation has done for their wealthy counterparts in the history of this country. Everything pointed to as "things that make us self centered" are things that make the rich richer. We don't protest? Well, look at it this way: even the last major protests of the last generation - the Women's Liberation Movement - was only successful when fat cats realized that they could turn every household into a two income generating machine - meaning the price of goods could be reasonably inflated, while wages could remain relatively stagnant as "average" people, with their added second incomes, only noticed how expensive things had become when costs soared out of their collective grasp. Of course, at this point, even the "old school" or relatively affluent were forced into this world of a two income house when they, too found that in order to get by, Daddy wasn't bringing home enough bacon. Unions became less important, as the unionized jobs were shipped overseas and service jobs were populated by women new to the workforce, also leading to diminished wages - not to mention a Republican campaign against Unions rivalled in our lifetimes only by the Wars on Drugs and Terror.

So now, we have 2 incomes (at some times three) being produced in every household, working harder for the wealthy to purchase the products average households can barely afford. Of course, that was all solved in the late 90s and first half of the 00s when it was "No Money? No Problem!" - and a criminal credit scheme was invented to first give us "entitled little brats" the artificially inflated goods and services that past generations afforded with more ease, and also insulate the institutions of the wealthiest Americans as the foundation of the economy itself - "too big to fail." Credit system collapses after the middle class and poor can no longer play ball? And the wealthy don't want to part with their favorite new tool? Hey! Bailout! No problem - keep making those profits. But I digress...

While I do agree that things like "No Score Tee-Ball" and daily affirmations for 1st graders are a troubling development, I still think the greater problem facing Generation Me is not the sense of self that's been instilled within them (by the same institution that profit from them, remember), but the reality that even the most humble, duty-first "role models" of this period are still struggling to advance in an America that has drastically shifted its values - not from "we" to "me", but from "how can I help you?" to "what can you give me?" And this shift started at the top of the economic ladder, not the bottom - and that's the beauty of it: All of these Tea Partiers and young "get the moderates out of here" Republicans want to move blame down the economic line, to the poor, the sick, the minorities, immigrants and other people who evidently didn't populate "their parent's America." Problem is, the most dangerous new inhabitant of this country is pure, unadulterated and lethal greed (maybe those pre-schoolers do need a little good news ahead of what awaits them...).

So if that has some of us a little blue, a little testy and a little more willing to partake in an online round of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, so be it. Just don't try to sell me some version 2.0 self help book on how to deal with the disappointment of finding out I can't "be anything I want to be" - because most of us don't want to be that much of anything at all. We don't want to be millionaires - we want an affordable mortgage. We don't want $120,000 cars - we want to stop worrying about whether we'll be able to afford it when our transmission finally goes. In other words, we don't want extravagant wealth, we want a stability that's less and less attainable. One thing we're all taught is that there is, in fact, a difference between dreams and reality. And while we all have dreams, most of us are still rooted in a reality that has turned very, very bleak.

No comments:

Post a Comment