Given the eager acquiescence of millennials to the all-online world, Generation X has a formidable responsibility to keep faith with reality. They are the last analog generation. Raised in a prerevolutionary moment technologically, they are children of paper, books, handshakes, body language, and eye contact. They learned—even if they didn’t always practice or appreciate them—the virtues of patience, self-control, and delayed gratification. They knew what it meant to be out of contact with someone they loved. Some of them—too few—learned how to fix an engine or wire a light fixture. Most remember how quiet things used to be; how easy it was to be alone.
…So what can Generation X do to help save America? It can begin by reasserting the relevance of the flesh-and-blood world that formed it. On an individual level, this means putting the iPhone down, turning off the computer, and taking a book out of the library or visiting a museum. It means going to a movie theater instead of binge-watching a Netflix series. It means talking to your friends face-to-face more instead of mostly texting or e-mailing them. On a societal level, it means pushing back against those who blithely accept that technology can be the solution to all our social and political problems. It means adopting a healthy skepticism of millennials’ efforts to disrupt every industry, every institution, and every economy with technology and an ethos of “sharing.” It means fighting for your privacy.
Demographics are destiny. We grew up in the world and mind of the baby-boomers simply because there were so many of them. They were the biggest, easiest, most free-spending market the planet had ever known. What they wanted filled the shelves and what fills the shelves is our history. They wanted to dance so we had rock ’n’ roll. They wanted to open their minds so we had LSD. They did not want to go to war so that was it for the draft. We will grow old in the world and mind of the millennials because there are even more of them. Because they don’t know what they want, the culture will be scrambled and the screens a neverending scroll. They are not literally the children of the baby-boomers but might as well be— because here you have two vast generations, linking arms over our heads, akin in the certainty that what they want they will have, and that what they have is right and good.
The members of the in-between generation have moved through life squeezed fore and aft, with these tremendous populations pressing on either side, demanding we grow up and move away, or grow old and die—get out, delete your account, kill yourself. But it’s become clear to me that if this nation has any chance of survival, of carrying its traditions deep into the 21st century, it will in no small part depend on members of my generation, Generation X, the last Americans schooled in the old manner, the last Americans that know how to fold a newspaper, take a joke, and listen to a dirty story without losing their minds.
…Irony and a keen sense of dread are what make Generation X the last great hope, with its belief that, even if you could tell other people what to say and what not to say, even if you could tell them how to live, even if you could enforce those rules through social pressure and public shaming, why would you want to? I mean, it’s just so uncool.
In a suspicious coincidence, these two pieces appeared nearly simultaneously to argue that my generation’s sense of jaded irony is apparently the only thing that can save us from true believers who take politics and technology too seriously. Allow me to raise a skeptical eyebrow in response. But then, I would do that, wouldn’t I? Look, I’m saving the world by continuing to do what I was already doing anyway! ♫ Hey, Dad, what do you think about your son now… ♫