What do the young ‘uns have?

I feel worried for the young ‘uns of today. Not for the obvious reasons of climate change, overpopulation, and the rest of it but rather because something has failed to happen.

They have not yet made me feel old.

I had the hope that by now I’d be well and truly over the hill and that I’d engage in a friendly “your cool VS my cool” rivalry while knowing full well I was on the losing end. I would have battled it out none the less, secretly jealous of how their youth outshone ours.

But no, this thing did not happen. And not because I think our youth was “better” for unfounded romantic reasons but because I simply don’t see what they “have”.

What do the youth “have” that we didn’t? What is the thing that they have created and defines their generation? What are they “about”?

Netflix, I know. Digital entertainment, smartphones, online shopping, apps… yes I get that part. But that is not the youth. That is what the youth consumes.

My question is what do the youth have in terms of grassroots movements, creations, ideas, forms of art that we didn’t have and that could make me envious?

By no means am I saying that the Gen-X’s or Gen Y’s spent their time inventing, improving and challenging the status quo, but I do think that our “modern” is still the youth of today’s modern. We at least had a clear separation between the “cool” of our parents and ours. We could mock their old habits and they could shake their heads at our trends. “”Tuck your shirt in”, they’d say. “I could fit three of me on that T-shirt”. “Sports shoes don’t support your feet!”

When we Gen X’s looked back to the past, we knew that the generation before ours had cool things of their own: playing safely in the street, work for everyone, a bag of sweets for a dollar, a comforting village life, a sense of family, quiet evenings in pubs without overbearing pop music, less noise from electric machines… alsorts of advantages that we would never have.

The values of the two generations before us carried many positive aspects such as a harmonious living (except for the small matter of the 2 World Wars), family as the nucleus of society, politeness, manners, getting the job done, avoiding unnecessary complaining, wholesomeness…all aspects that could help form a picture of what they were about.

But this current generation? I have no idea.

The last time I went to the skate park, the youths failed to display the slightest cordiality by making me feel out of touch. I couldn’t even walk back to my wife and say “I guess I’m no longer with it…” to which we’d chuckle and watch the youth get on with their life just as we’d happily watch a little “twig and leaf” boat go down the stream.

Their crimes? Well, for a start they all looked like me when I was their age. Has nothing happened in 30 years? Could they not find a fashion that was theirs? I wasn’t even grandad in his old clothes making a fool of himself. And I probably knew more of the history of the brands they were wearing than they did. Because I actually saw it come out when they were initially “cool”.

Next was the music on their speaker, of which I knew most of the songs be it 90s hip hop or punk rock. I could actually sing the lyrics while I skated. But wouldn’t it be like we Gen X’s still listening to Glenn Miller or the Andrews Sisters? I’m not sure I would have liked my mum say “Oh you’re into Abba also? We used to dance to it in the 60s!”

Last I checked, Eminem, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne and 50 Cent were still in the top selling rappers now. The same artists who were cool when I was a teenager! Rock music has an even worse record, with Green Day, Radiohead, Chilli Peppers, Metallica and Coldplay still up there with the best.

As teenagers, we saw quite a few grassroots movements emerge and which were “by the young people for young the people”. There was the skateboarding culture with its groundbreaking sense of art, but also new musical styles: rap, heavy metal, hardcore punk, ska-punk, ambient, trip hop, dub, trance, raves… There was graffiti art, new creative types of horror films, Dungeons and Dragons, break dancing… all types of hobbies that didn’t exist before us. Even the primitive internet was amateurish and fashioned by ordinary people with a passion for programming.

Potentially, it is possible to line up a picture for each decade since the 1940s and spot the easily recognizable defining traits. Show me a picture of a typical “2020 kid” and I’m not sure I will see much difference with the 1990s or 2010. Perhaps the only clue will be the type of mobile phone they are holding or the laptop they are using? More tattoos also?

Most things the kids today boast, we could likely say: “Yes, we already had that.” Tight jeans? Loose jeans? Ripped jeans? Bell bottoms? Retro wear? Mountaineering wear? Beach wear? Electric guitars? Drums? Jazz? Heavy metal? Rap? Cartoons? TV Series? Barbecues? Camping? Japanese animation?

What is more alarming still is seeing the youth fed our reheated leftovers in the form of cinema actors or cartoons. Transformers, Ghostbusters, Mad Max, Spider Man, Hulk, Star Wars, Batman, Wonderwoman, Beetlejuice, Road House, Hobbits, Barbie, Paddington Bear, Aladdin, Dumbo … I am sure that by looking around I could find more examples easily.

Naturally, we could argue that these films have fallen into popular culture and don’t belong to a certain generation anymore. But this still doesn’t explain to me what the youth “have” that I didn’t and that could make me envious. For the sake of argument, take away all the smartphone-related apps, what is left? Certainly not bicycles, they don’t use those anymore!

On a deeper level, are the youth leading us in any way? Are they looking at the environment and creating something to make the world better? Are they saying “We’re tired of this old way of doing things, we want our own!”

Is there a philosophy that is palpable and that is improving on the faults of the past generations? What exactly are we seeing that could give us the feeling that something new is on its way?

The big advantage they have is certainly access to information by means of Youtube and the internet. “In my day”, you couldn’t just look up a video on how to bleed a radiator or clean a stain on a carpet. We didn’t have access to free language courses, psychologists’ advice or fitness instructors. There was no way of “decoding” why that pretty girl or boy wasn’t into you – no relationship advice to be found on the internet.

With all this information, our “old” generation can reasonably expect a step-up in awareness, culture, wisdom or overall smarts. The young ‘uns can quite literally look at a faithful picture of the world since the early 1900s and decide for themselves what worked and what didn’t. They can pick and choose from various philosophies, literature, career choices, attitudes towards life and countries. They can find the mentors that we never had and who can enable them to raise the bar as humans.

They can rightfully conclude that selfishness isn’t beneficial and create a grassroots movement that encourages international sharing. They can make an online community of young people that not only demands, but acts towards an improvement now. For no money at all, they can implement change on their own terms by means on an international collaboration between young people. They can re-design society by means of a peaceful and positive change in behaviour.

They can put the “old stuff” aside, stop consuming our hand-me-downs and bring us all forward. All it takes is the will to do it. The beauty is that they don’t even need brick-and-mortar buildings. A phone or laptop will do.

Perhaps the very internet tool that is liable to bring this change forward is also responsible for transforming the actors into spectators. The famous “double-edged sword”. Sharing videos on Tik Tok and taking action are two different things. Knowing is not the same as doing.

My hope is for a breakthrough in awareness coming from the young ‘uns and an understanding of their role. By no longer looking at the screen and by being what happens in the screen, they can bring us all forward through an the awareness of the failures of the past. If there was ever a generation that had the ability to take a step back and look at human society it is surely them.

I want to find the young generation “cool”, I want to be made to feel as if I had to catch up and rise to new standards. I want to know that there is something meaningful and new coming from the young ‘uns.

I want then to lead us in some way!

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