You offered up a fascinating point of discussion in your last piece. Whether it was a serious inquiry or simply a product of wit, I consider the topic of contemporary American communication one worth exploring.
As a college student in the 21st century – what’s usually referred to as being a “millennial” – I often find those “wiser” than me and my peers telling us that we don’t know how to communicate. In their minds, it’s almost as if we are cavemen that walk with arched necks and hunched backs and can only communicate in grunts. It would be easy to write off this criticism as the old guard waging yet another generational war on the “strange” and “immoral” customs of the youth. However, while I may have seen it this way before, I’m of the mind that this issue goes beyond generations, and deals more with modern humanity in general.
Those elders who snub their nose at me, and tell me that I’m incapable of holding a conversation or forming an important relationship don’t see what I see. They don’t live in my world. They only see the online videos and news articles that make general statements about everyone born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s – the time span that classifies a “millennial.” And that’s what I meant by this being an issue with modern humanity, not just with my generation.
My generation is generalized as being the “.com” and “iPhone” generation, as if we are so obsessed with these concepts that the rest of what life has to offer is worthless. But — and this assertion may offend some older readers — I am certain that the older generation is just as obsessed with these gizmos and gadgets, maybe more. If they weren’t, grandmothers wouldn’t have Facebook accounts, mothers wouldn’t have iPhones, and fathers wouldn’t play games on their mobile devices. It isn’t only 20 year olds that have kinks in their necks from looking down at screens all the time. We’ve all been tempted by the allure of modern technology, with all its wonders and drawbacks.
You previously expressed an interest in the conversations of my “dorm contemporaries.” It’s these conversations that are often degraded. However, I’m here to offer a different perspective. While I have no delusions that my contemporaries and I are the best group of Americans to ever live, I want to make the point that we’re the same as everyone that’s come before us, filled with our own unique vices and virtues. The times we’ve grown up in have etched within us inherent flaws that we’ll always possess. This is no different than your generation. The only current difference is that our critics have yet to die off, so that our way of life can become the new norm. This passage of time is how the baton of humanity is handed from generation to generation.
The college conversations I encounter on a day to day basis may be different than conversations of days gone by, but they’re no less fulfilling or meaningful. You questioned the “range, depth, wit, insight and delight” of contemporary conversation, but these categories cannot be talked about in a broad sense. They must be taken on a case to case basis. Some people are wittier than others. Some people are deeper than others. Some people are more delightful than others. This is the reality for all of human kind, not just “millennials.” After all, we’re only people. We aren’t so different, no matter how much we’re painted as such.
What I can say is that when I’ve made a deep connection with somebody, the conversations between them and me had more range, depth, wit, insight and delight than anything I’ve ever experienced. My contemporaries can make me think harder than a professor. They can make me laugh harder than the most lauded comedians and satirists. They can make me feel more than any poet or artist. And, they can make me want to talk endlessly. All the while, my smartphone is off and my computer is silent.
“Millennials” are seen as shut-ins and anti-social types because of our social media and text messaging. While we may utilize these modern forms of communication, they are used in pursuit of connection with others. Now, as in the past, to be isolated is to feel ostracized. We want to be around people, and we want to feel the social benefits of community. Unlike the past, however, we have different avenues for perusing the end goal of friendship and acceptance. Bob Dylan said that “the times they are a changing,” and he was right. In fact, the times already have changed, and people don’t like it.
For humans are creatures of contradiction. We crave progress, but fear change.