Locked in to Tunnel Vision

Fear and lethargy contribute as much as lack of interest and understanding to generational differences.

Consider the massive shifts in the musical landscape that took place after World War II, especially in the late fifties. It seems to me that the Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation did not understand the advent of rock & roll music.  But it wasn’t entirely misunderstanding; it was comfort with what they already knew and discomfort with what they didn’t. Beyond that—though closely related—was their fear of being unable to understand or fully grasp the new musical form and their inertia; they were stuck in the musical tastes they grew up with and unwilling to explore new ideas in music.

The same mechanisms were at play with Baby Boomers and Generation X. Keeping with the backdrop of music, they looked back at their parents’ and grandparents’ musical tastes with little interest because they had their own ‘new’ musical tastes; they did little to try to understand music that had been popular in years past. The Beatles and their successors in popular musical culture triggered competing fears and the consequent lethargy.

Departing from music, I blame the same contributors to generational differences in the acceptance of technology, or the lack thereof.  New technology platforms came at us fast and furious—the first ‘publicly accessible’ computers, pocket calculators, desktop computers, video game consoles, video recorders, cell phones, smart phones, et al. And then, the ways in which the tools are used gave rise to entirely new and different thought and communication environments in the form of social media: MySpace, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and dozens of their spawn. Next, hybrids that joined social media with mobile communication technologies, begat tools that changed (and are changing) the way we live from one minute to the next: booking flights and hotels from our mobile devices, ordering food from our cars, leaving paper maps at home in favor of GPS-generated maps in our cars.

It seems to me that each generation collectively feels like it is running into a wall with each new fashion, with every new fad, and with all the emerging technologies and tools that were not even dreams while they were coming of age. The are afraid they do not have the capacity to understand all the ‘newsness,’ so they turn their backs on it and relegate themselves to early obsolescence. But, simultaneously, they do little to peer back in time to understand the lifestyles and tools in which their forebears found comfort.

Something else, too, is at play in the unwillingness of generations to adapt to the world as it changes around them; they see the changes as evidence that the latest generation does not understand nor value them and the way they lived.  They reject change because, knowingly or not, they identify change as judgement against them and the way they lived their lives. I see evidence of it in my own Baby Boomer generation, as members of the cohort eschew the value of Facebook (as I often do, even as a regular user who’s about ready to abandon it again) and harp about the loss of human contact they attribute to the small screens of smart phones.

I try, though sometimes with a half-hearted effort, to keep abreast of new and emerging technologies. I attempt to listen to and appreciate music as it evolves. Those efforts, I think, help keep me relatively young in attitude and spirit. Yet my struggle to stay relevant to today’s world does not always meet success. The fear and lethargy that I blame for generational conflict is just as present in me as it is in others. I have real fears that technology and change is not always for the best; both can lead to unintended consequences and loss of social bonds when used without considering their impact on how we live.

But, if we try to keep abreast of change, we tend to stay younger than if we let it slide by. If we permit each new generation to slip further and further from our understanding, eventually we will become utterly irrelevant and, indeed, caged geezers in a prison of our own making.  Our tunnel vision and innate fears and laziness will consume us; not me, if I can help it.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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