As a culture we often find ourselves battling traditions and conventions surrounding what we look at as societal norms. I look at these as “old world” fashions that are dying out because they are largely irrelevant in our new world. Things like the landline telephone, the television, the newspaper, the magazine, indeed most print in general, are dying out like the generations that once had a use for them. We don’t need the landline telephone when we carry a smart phone with us everywhere. Many don’t need a television because they have a computer that they can get all their content on. The newspaper is irrelevant largely because we can get updated news over the internet much faster and accurately than we can with the newspaper. The magazine and even books are dying out because again these are things we can get over the internet. As things become more digitalized the need for us to have something physically in front of us or indeed, even fully in our possession, diminishes.
All societies battle change whether they mean to or not. As Americans we don’t like getting rid of things. Hoarding is something that is deeply ingrained in our culture due to the nature of our consumer based economy, but this in itself is a barrier to growth as well. We are a culture of stuff. This stuff doesn’t usually amount to much in the larger scheme of things, but it is stuff that makes us feel grounded and thus our own concept of reality gets defined by our relationships with material things in our world. It is for this reason that is so incredibly difficult in our society to truly change. We don’t want to get rid of the telephone because it’s something that’s been in our homes for two generations now nor do we want to get rid of the television that has been a staple of American households since the 1950’s. Print media is a tradition that has been with us since the monks started transcribing the King James Bible into English centuries ago and is thus even more difficult to get rid of. It will probably be two or three generations before print media is finally allowed to die the dignified death it deserves as opposed to the Dementia-like demise it is currently suffering.
The ideas and core concepts that keep us tethered to old technologies are also what keep us tied up in old ways of conducting ourselves in relationships and interpersonal communications. My parents generation is what I like to call the Starbucks generation. They like the idea of meeting people in a coffee shop while my generation is hooked up to their computers and smart phones in such places. Indeed, it seems altogether strange and in some cases non-sensical that you would see let alone meet people in a coffee shop. We’re too caught up in our new technological world to notice what is going on in the physical world. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is our pre-conceived notions that because we do things differently in places where things have become routine that lead to an aversion to change to begin with. If our parents weren’t criticizing our behavior (just as their parents criticized their likewise radical behavior in their youths) we would become all to complacent with change. What older generations never consider in their criticism however is that change is a necessary component in evolutionary societies. Without change we become to dependent on the ways of the past when others have found new and often better ways of doing things.
Change wouldn’t be worth it if it were easy, but that doesn’t mean it should be ridiculously hard. As a writer, there are times where I find it difficult to fully communicate my thoughts and ideas to a computer. Writing on paper is what I’m used to therefore that is what I do before I type something up. Yet, when I was in a classroom of young people the other day everyone was cheerfully typing away on their laptops and in some cases there were even kids who were typing away on their iPads. The horror! I don’t consider myself to be an old person, but I am certainly not young anymore. In just a few months I’ll be turning thirty, which for those of you not paying attention is the new fifty. When I found myself in a classroom full of high school seniors using these advanced encoding devices I had two thoughts: “why can’t they just write on paper?” and “oh, look: the future.” As my thoughts turned to why they couldn’t just do things the old way I started to think about why I couldn’t do things the new way. It seems only logical to me that one should consider two ideas on balance and decide, without emotion geared toward one or the other, which one is the better way forward. After one intrepid young soul showed me there are many advantages to using this new technology and it may even be more expedient for me to use this technology in my work. However, being of another generation I couldn’t quite disconnect from my way of doing things.
I am not in a position to judge which is better: the new ways or the old ways, but as a student of history I can say this: the new ways usually win. They don’t win overnight. They don’t win by turning old cultures on to new techniques. They win by winning the hearts and minds of the younger generations. As one Teach for America tutor impressed upon me: “it’s easier to change the thoughts and feelings within a child than it is the will and experience of man.” What an insight and what a truism. I thought about this idea for a little while and my conclusion was that she was right. My next question however scared me a little: “what do we have to offer a generation that is open to change when we are not?” And it was then that I realized that just by being receptive to change I was, in a small way, helping to change my generations attitude toward change in general. This is to say that we don’t have to stay marred in the ways of the past simply because generations before us have done that. We too can change and as for what we have to offer new generations it’s all relatively simple. They don’t know the ways of the world like we do. It is our job to show them life as we lived it so that they can interpret how they decide to live their lives. It is not that one way or the other is better it is that they are different and this in and of itself is the value we bring to future generations.