If there’s one thing several generations can agree on, its that the next generation is headed down the wrong path. Of course, each successive generation will disagree if they hear the previous one say it but if you manage to get them all to say it at once, you will then get to see them look at each other in shock before the older generation starts admonishing the next one for speaking out of turn, which they never used to do back in the day.
Douglas Adams, genius author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and a man who knew where his towel was had this to say about the subject:
“Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
I disagree with that last bit. We usually start doing it way before 35. When I was in 2nd year of college, we were talking about how the new kids just don’t get it. But I guess that could be because I didn’t have a way of making a career out of the new stuff that the first years brought with them. Now I’m literally making a career out of technology that was developed after I was 15 so I guess I have another 5 years before I can find my high horse.
Apart from our favorite frood’s brilliant quote, there are excellent articles already written about why we always sell the next generation short and about how our ‘adventure window’ closes at 35 . I however wanted to talk a little about why we crave the comfort of set ways and how we are all going to be thrown out of that comfort zone very soon. I write about this not as a researcher with any sort of credentials but as a layman whose behavioral trends are the topics of such research efforts.
Have I felt the need to condemn the new kids and their strange new tastes and habits? Yes I have, in spite of not having crossed the adventure window myself. Why do I already feel that need? Simply put, it is because the avenues for trying out some of that new stuff have closed. I had a distinctly crazy college life but it was still in a very different world. When the new kids talk about the crazy stuff they did in college, I can’t join college again to do those things. Having your adventure window open doesn’t mean you’ll get to have all those experiences. So naturally, what do we do? We glorify the old stuff. We talk about how much better it was to have a limited number of free text messages and trying to stay within that cap. About how you could get drunk somewhere and stay in the moment instead of posting selfies on Instagram. And then we shake our heads and say “Aaj kal ke bacche”.
Are we silly to miss those things and dislike all this new nonsense? Hell no. That’s not what I’m saying at all. Its completely fine that we like some of the old stuff better than the new. I personally miss the freedom of using text messages instead of instant messengers that show you are ‘online’. You could take your time and reply and you didn’t end up spending as much time on it. However, its not fair for me to say that my preference for 200 texts per day vs. Whatsapp is an absolute truth for the whole world and all of time. The things we miss are personal and shared with a few others from the same time and place. Don’t stop the next generation from developing their own stories of the good old days because you were forcing them to relive the glory of really old days. Its a losing battle that has been fought for millenia.
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”
Guess who said that? Freaking Socrates, sometime around 300 BC. Goddamned Socrates thought the great great grandfathers and grandmothers of the generation that birthed Jesus just wanted to chill and have a good time and disrespect elders and chit chat in the gym. If somebody had just told him to relax and not get so uptight, we wouldn’t be laughing at his words 2500 years later. If you want some more recent evidence, the generation that fought in WW2 was derided by the previous one, leading to a cartoonist by the name of Bill Mauldin to write essays defending his generation (all detailed in this excellent Forbes article) . And here’s an nih.gov paper from 2010 that concluded that over the last 30 years, data shows that there was no increase in narcisssism among college students. They found instead that young people tend to be narcissistic in every generation and they then tend to grow up.
Very simply put, young people are bratty at any point in history, so when the next generation looks at the young ones, their salty observations are valid. What they are forgetting is that they were equally incorrigible at that age and that these kids will mellow down to their levels when they reach that age if they give them a chance.
However, all of that might change pretty soon. My motivation for exploring this topic in spite of all the pre-written material is news about breakthroughs in CRISPR gene editing technology. If you’re wondering what the hell that is and how is it related to any of this, CRISPR is a technology that allows scientists to edit the genes of embryos or sperm or eggs. It can help you edit out disease causing genes but it might also one day let you create designer babies. You can create babies who will grow up to be faster or smarter or even have enhanced abilities. Who knows, maybe you can even alter their personality traits. What then will you say about the next generation? Call them abominations? Or will you consider only the unaltered ones as part of the human race? What if there aren’t any unaltered babies? If your kids will have to live in a world full of peers who are smarter and more able, will you choose to let them be at a lifelong disadvantage? If China and Pakistan start putting enhanced soldiers on the border, do you think India will continue to keep a moratorium on gene editing?
Truth is, we no longer have the luxury of deriding future generations and then doing research that proves that they are essentially the same as us. We are now entering an age where future generations may be fundamentally, genetically different from us. What then will we say about Aaj Kal Ke Bacche?
Maybe we should start practising how to extend our adventure window.
P.S: If you’re interested in finding out more about CRISPR, check out this Radiolab podcast episode