“Back in My Day,” Things Weren’t Better

Getting real with the 'new' generational debate


A 2011 The Simpsons screencap, this image has become an Internet symbol for the ridiculous, needless contempt that older generations show toward new.

Lily Yates, Copy Editor

I’m surprised it’s not written in gold on some shiny monument. Given the frightening frequency with which this verbal missile is fired and intercepted in nearly every intergenerational conversation, it seems only fair. And the phrase is so versatile besides:

“Kids these days…” ah, just fill in the blank. The choices to fill it come in a diverse range of colors and varieties, including but not limited to the old faithful option, “don’t understand,” and of course, the ever-popular “should.”

In so many cases, however, critiques brought forth by users of this phrase are founded on nothing more than personal disapproval. The most common complaints ‘these days,’ so to speak, tend involve one of two general ideas.

Self-obsession is supposedly evidenced by the presence of selfies, social media, and laziness. Similarly, supposed evidence of impatience or an inability to cope with waiting is served conveniently up on a platter of complaints spanning fast food, wifi, texting; the list goes on.

Yes, I know. It’s a topic that’s been hashed out time and time again, explored in all sorts of media, from music to literature to discourse- ripe slam poetry. No conclusion, though, ever seems to end it all.

But that’s just it: the ludicrous thing is that the discussion has taken place not just over the decades but actually over the centuries and beyond.

Take for example, this circa 20 B.C. quote from Book III of Horace’s Odes: “Our sires’ age was worse than our grandsires’. We, their sons, are more worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt.”

So literally speaking, there has never been a time when the older members of society have just accepted the fact that technology and cultural norms do the same thing as humans themselves: change. But somehow that old man at the grocery store in line behind you still likes to think he’s making a point that will shift space and time…by muttering about your smartphone.

That’s all fine and good. It’s easy to understand that this kind of societal evolution can be something people just don’t know how to handle. New discoveries and rapid-fire fads with lifespans of only a few days can be overwhelming signals to a brain that’s been on the earth for a while: what you know is wrong.

It doesn’t excuse some of the behavior that indirectly results, but that’s a scary thought for anyone, to be sure.

Conversely, maybe the most thoroughly disappointing source of this needless and damaging critique of The Youth of Today? That would be (drum roll please): the youth of today.

Every once in awhile at a party, in class, or online, you find someone who, like that old man buying applesauce at the local Bag N’ Save, seems to be under the impression that their remark upon something common in younger society makes them a modern Plato. Newsflash: finding ways to criticize every single thing that someone (individual or otherwise) enjoys doesn’t make you wise.

This holier-than-thou behavior is even more inflammatory because not only is it unnecessary and often hypocritical, but is also critically hurtful to the currently shaky unity existing among young people; something that could potentially become a real instrument for political, moral, and societal change given adequate time and a healthy environment to grow.

Now, whether you admit it or not, if you see these tendencies in yourself toward undue criticism of our own generation, I’d like for you someday to be able to do just one thing. That is, to realize the wild beauty that innovation has brought us even along with occasional downfalls.

Cell phones especially have brought friends, family members, cultures, and learning previously impossibly difficult to access instantly to our fingertips. I’m feeling confident in myself and want to share my happiness with the world? Yes, I will take a selfie. Yes, I will Instagram it. Need help with school? I can learn the basics of a new language in just days, or watch the stars go by from a space station’s perspective. Got a niece in the middle of… I don’t know, Antarctica? You can still be there to see her first steps live, in the palm of your hand, and tell her, “I’m proud of you.”

There is more powerful technology in my rose gold iPhone than in the supercomputer used to orchestrate the moon landing. The prospects and possibilities for human communication, unity, growth, and further innovation have never been more encouraging, and the most recent generation of young people are the pioneers of this glorious revolution that will eventually link the entire world, person by person. But I suppose you’re more worried about the shamefully long time I take to pick a filter.

Lily Yates - Quintessence Editor-in-Chief

Lily became a member of The Flightline in August of 2015. She is a senior this year and enjoys an array of activities including choir, theatre and slam poetry. She is also on staff as a library aide at the Omaha Public Library. You can email her at [email protected]