November 30, 2005
The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.
- Peter the Hermit (1274 CE)
I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.
- Hesiod (~700 BCE)
It is often said that people will be people, teenagers will (and always have been) teenagers, and the older generation will always bemoan the present state of things.
Uhm ... not exactly.
Universal across time and space is that youth tend to be impatient with the elderly, that youth are newly discovering themselves as sexual beings separate from the image of their parents, and (consequently) that youth tend to be more likely to come up with and grasp new technologies -- not more adaptable however, because adaptability requires more than simply the ability to handle.
It is precisely in that question of adaptability and technology that our observed changes exist: for technologies are not neutral, but shape the user also. Modern technologies on the one hand suggest a need for longer schooling (one I don't agree with btw): and thus there comes about a much longer period in a human being's life between adult biological functioning and acceptance of adult responsibilities (ie. self-reliance). Teenagers have not always been teenagers, not as we understand the word. In many parts of the world, those of age 14 and even younger are still expected to be self-reliant ... while western society actively encourages delayed adolescence through the college years and sometimes until an increasingly delayed marriage in the mid to late 20's on average.
A second part of the shaping is that since the introduction of, oh, say the telephone, communicative technologies have increasingly made it easier to be "social" -- but always with the "off" button at hand. The computer makes it even easier. And these two technologies are being introduced to children at an earlier and earlier age: making it easier and easier for them to grow up believing this to be the natural structure of socialisation.
The net result of such delayed adolescence, in an "off-button" world, cannot but be a net reduction of empathy -- and, in consequent parallel, an ever-increasing difficulty in the ability to compromise (an ability born of forced continual contact during the years we learn how to socialise). This pattern has been established now through two generations and now a third: and one only needs to look around, at the newscasts, at the interactive Internet itself, to recognise that we are already reaping its first harvests ...