Wailing about kids today is a wholesome and robust tradition. Contrast and comparison is also a very effective way to understand one’s own self. “Parent Orientation!; my father slowed the car down when we got to campus!” when spoken out loud might expand one’s understanding of one’s own self-reliance. About two generations now have been grumbling and pontificating about the self-absorbed populace planted and sowed after 1980. Those in the earliest crop are now parenting themselves. Many born before 1980 or raised outside of the family-friendly entertainment industry/my child is an honor student/kindergarten graduation influence, find themselves wondering what will become of all these kids when they reach adulthood and discover there is no audience? Don’t worry; it’s not gonna happen.
No one grows up and enters their elder’s world anymore. In the 21st century our industry is ideas (via technology.) We are not building cities, roads and bridges. We are not harvesting national resources and building empires. Most of our cultural institutions and landmark buildings are just that; institutions and landmarks. There are not many young men and women going into the business of their parents’. Even if the ‘business’ goes by the same name, it probably looks quite different day-to-day. If dad went into his dad’s profession of banking, the work wouldn’t have varied that much. Sure dad would now be working with or for women, and maybe there would be no smoking, but the actual work; money in, profits out, wouldn’t have changed all that much. But by the time junior comes along the business is international and technology is king. Junior and his cohorts have never heard the term “banker’s hours” and if they did would assume it refers to 24/7. There are very few paths left where one could actually follow footsteps. Each generation now machetes their way through.
Nowhere is this more evident than in media and technology. Reality show proliferation doesn’t happen by accident. Dozens of channels specializing in ‘Queen for a Day” programming is calculated. It’s calculated by the television staff whose orientation to the world renders a “Look At Me!” premise totally plausible and laudable. It’s calculated by a television staff who also knows (or projects onto) its audience; “Who doesn’t want to be the center of attention?” And social media is not the result of a whole lot of leftover parts. Slowly but surely developers discovered that there was an insatiable appetite to ‘be seen.’ Certainly social media sites such as Facebook are a wonderful tool for connecting and reconnecting with friends. But it’s also an easy way to create a familiar and familial sense of importance. Status updates are filled with information that only a (helicopter) parent could possibly find interesting. Twitter is possibly one of the greatest ‘democratizer’ of our time; allowing for personal curation and access to previously unattainable information. But it’s also a way to type incessantly (and perhaps inanely) in the pursuit of attention.
Media and marketing have become so linked as to often be indistinguishable from one another. There is nothing surprising about this evolution. It is the natural by-product of generations who would not see a value in doing anything without an audience. All entertainment media now integrates Twitter and Facebook into their production. Try to even find a television program without a hash tag prompt on the lower left corner or a promo to “Like” the show on Facebook. Much of this marketing is relatively noninvasive and at times even informative. It’s nothing to shirk or even bemoan, but it is quite telling.
There are lots of real things to worry about. We can wring our hands over K-12 curriculum or childhood obesity. We can worry about higher education accessibility for our ‘best snack providers.” But we needn’t worry about how these kids will fare once the camcorders are turned off. As long as there are iPhones (or their yet to be born offspring) and mirrors, they’ll be just fine.