It comes on suddenly, but at some point we all become cultural relics.
It’s arrived for me in the last couple of years. I find it increasingly hard to wrap my head around the things I see and hear about daily: Driverless cars, Twitter, body piercings, streaming video, vaping, machines that engage in conversation, Dubstep (whatever that may be) and on and on.
Not that I disapprove of all this, it’s just that I don’t have a neat mental box into which these pop culture ideas fit, so I spend more and more time smiling pleasantly and pretending I get it.
Actually, to be honest, there are some things I do object to, particularly machines that engage in conversation. I have vowed never to address a piece of metal by hip names such as “Siri” or “Alexa.”
But by and large, these newfangled ways simply cause my mental gears to disengage for a while.
With this cultural incomprehension comes a natural tendency to think that somehow the Old Days were better, or at least much easier to understand. An era when phones had cords, long-distance was expensive, cars had carburetors (and all of them used gasoline too), tattoos were for sailors and convicts, and TVs had just three or four channels, so you watched what was on – and you liked it.
And with this idea comes a suspicion that someone is at fault. Someone is driving this change and making things way more complicated than they need to be.
The logical villains? Kids these days.
The next generation seems perfectly at home with all of these strange new things. They know how to discuss these innovations intelligently (if not intelligibly, at least to my ears). And worst of all, they seem to enjoy it.
This week I found myself surrounded by a huge mob of the Kids These Days. My older son (who is firmly in this age group) prevailed on the family to go to a live performance of a popular podcast (I am told this is like radio but with less static) in Sacramento. The theater was jammed with teens and 20-somethings, all united by their love of the odd, surreal, and dryly-humorous show “Welcome to Nightvale.”
As a graying father on the cusp of 50, I was definitely in the minority.
The crowd was a riot of colors and styles, including hair of impossible hues (sometimes several impossible hues mixed together). It seems that there is a trend toward haircuts that involve long and shaved patches, sometimes in seemingly random combinations.
There were skinny jeans and knit hats, bowties and hoodies, girls dressed like boys and boys dressed like girls. And everyone was having a good time.
I watched and listened as they bantered and joshed, flirted and showed off. They seemed literate, funny, cocky, enthusiastic, and optimistic.
Just like, well, we were. Back when ties were narrow, jackets had no collars, and lace gloves were a legitimate fashion accessory. When we cried with The Smiths, smirked with the Violent Femmes, and got high in clouds of the delusion that privileged college kids live in spiritual solidarity with poor young Jamaicans sitting in the government yard in Trenchtown.
I guess every generation thinks it is the first one to discover humor and attitude and sex and drugs and rock and roll. And every generation earns the baffled disapproval of the older generation, which has a gnawing suspicion that the kids are ruining everything.
In the end, the show we saw was delightful, powerfully written, nicely acted, and in a way touchingly old-fashioned, like a live radio show from the 1930s, or the Grand Ole Opry taken over by hipsters. The young people in the audience reacted with the same glee and enthusiasm that their parents showed for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” or David Letterman’s anarchical late night show on NBC.
I left the theater thinking that, although I may not understand their world anymore, I’m really starting to like this new generation.