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Fr. Edlefsen's Sunday Column
January 12, 2018
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“Generations come and generations go…there is nothing new under the sun.”
(Qoheleth, “Book of Ecclesiastes,” circa 300 B.C.).

“There's a whole generation, with a new explanation.”
(John Phillips and Scott McKenzie, “San Francisco,” Summer of Love, May 13, 1967)

“You are Experienced.”
(Jimi Hendrix,1967)

“By the way, at this moment, we are on the air.   And on the air we do not have any physical body. …You have a very different relation to the world around you. And this I think this has been one of the big effects of the electric age. It has deprived people really of their private identity. …. Everybody tends to merge his identity with other people at the speed of light.”
(Marshall McLuhan, interview with Mike McManus, TV Ontario, 1977)

“While farmers were shackled to their fields and pastures, the industrialists were shackled to their factories, and the “mad men” were shackled to their offices, while the office drones were shackled to their cubicles, this generation is shackled only to their devices and the reach of a cell tower or Wi-Fi signal. As cellular and Internet coverage spreads, and devices become more and more powerful and portable, those shackles are becoming less and less restrictive.” (Dixie Gillaspie, “5 Ways Millennials Are Like No Generation Before Them,” Entrepreneur, May 13, 2015)

“According to research, Gen Z is more individualistic, more conservative both socially and fiscally, and they’re already making waves of impact on our political system. Gen Z, those born in 1995 or later, is possibly the most conservative generation since World War II…” (Ashley Stahl, “Why Democrats Should Be Losing Sleep Over Generation Z,” Forbes, August 11, 2017)

“He's an old hippie, and he don't know what to do.   Should he hang on to the old, should he grab on to the new?”
(Bellamy Brothers, “Old Hippie,” 1985)

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”
(Jesus, “Gospel According to Luke,” circa 33 AD).

In the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan didn’t feel the need to try LSD because he read “Finnegan’s Wake.”  Taking LSD is just like reading “Finnegan’s Wake,” said some ‘60s intellectuals.  I don’t need to read “Finnegan’s Wake” or try LSD because I live in a digital world.  In post-book times, everything is experienced at once.  “You are Experienced,” prophesied Jimi Hendrix in ‘67.  Everyone is involved with everyone.  “Feelin’ Groovy.”  All is cool.  Involved.  Individualism out.  Collectivism in.  Categories out.  Patterns in.  Trending.  Spirit in.  Matter out.  Intuition in.  Logic out.  Everyone’s a Liberal Arts major now, of sorts.  Fast forward 2018: The digital world is eclectic and psychedelic.  It’s an uber catholic trip.

Compare Millennials (born early ‘80s to mid ‘90s) to Generation Z (born mid ‘90s to mid 2000s), also known as Gen Z, Gen Zed, iGen or Digital Natives.  Unlike most Millennials, whose childhood wasn’t wireless, Gen Z nursed digital.  Gen Z grew up on outer-body experiences.  They watch five screens at a time, compared to Millennial’s three.  Generation X (born mid ‘60s to mid ‘70s) looks at one, like a book.  Ashley Stahl on Gen Z: “According to research, Gen Z is more individualistic, more conservative both socially and fiscally, and they’re already making waves of impact on our political system.  Gen Z…is possibly the most conservative generation since World War II…” (Forbes, August 11, 2017).  Misread.  Gen Z’s “libertarianism” isn’t “individualism” or “conservatism.”  Why not?  Those are “book” things.  So what’s happening?  Gen Z trusts their Gen X parents more than Millennials trusted their Baby Boom parents.  Gen Z is a bit like the non-adolescent teens of continental Europe in the ‘50s.  That was a world of chaperones, not adolescents.  Gen Z feels trapped by moral chaos.  Not liberated.  Gen Z’s key difference from Millennials: Millennials prolonged adolescence.  Gen Z is skipping it.  Adolescence, as we knew it, was made tribal by the radio, tolerant by the book, mobile by the car.  Adolescence is not a digital experience.  It’s acoustic, literate, and physical.  A teen has to physically get out of the house in order to be adolescent.  A teen cannot sit alone in a safe zone with electronics and experience adolescence.  Adolescence is inherently unsafe – socially, morally, physically.

There’s a correlation between (1) schools ridding libraries, (2) teens online in a room and (3) teens skipping adolescence.  Take it from The Beach Boys: “Well she got her daddy's car, and she cruised through the hamburger stand now.  Seems she forgot all about the library, like she told her old man now.  And with the radio blasting, goes cruising just as fast as she can now.  And she'll have fun, fun, fun ‘til her daddy takes the T-bird away” (Beach Boys, 1964).  In the ‘50s and ‘60s, the library (left-brained environment) and the hamburger stand (right-brained counter-environment) were two axes on an adolescent tribal plane connected by the T-bird and radio (fun).  Gen Z doesn’t navigate a geographical plane, thanks to Google and Geico.  Daddy has taken the T-bird away, for good.  (Does Geico give 15% off on T-birds?)  Now, teens “turn on, tune in and drop out” alone.  That’s not adolescent.  That’s old France on wireless.  The adolescent body is mobile.  The left brain is literate.  The right brain is fun.  Adolescents are narcissistically embodied.  Gen Z is narcissistically disembodied.  Gen Z wants to be “involved” rather than have “fun.”  They want digital participation.  If not, they get FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).  The claim that Gen Z is more “conservative,” “libertarian,” and “individualistic” is a bookish way of saying that they’re non-adolescent teens.

 

Dixie Gillaspie on Millennials: “[T]his generation is shackled only to their devices and the reach of a cell tower or Wi-Fi signal.  As cellular and Internet coverage spreads, and devices become more and more powerful and portable, those shackles are becoming less and less restrictive” (Entrepreneur, May 13, 2015).  For Millennials, the internet is unshackling.  For Gen Z, the internet is shackling.  For ex-adolescents, like myself, portable devices make it easier to “get around.”

Round round get around, I get around, yeah
[Get around round round I get around, ooh-ooh] I get around
From town to town [get around round round I get around]
I'm a real cool head [get around round round I get around]
I'm makin' real good bread [get around round round I get around]
(Beach Boys, 1964)

Kids weaned on wireless do not “get around.”  They’re in safe zones.  “Library” and “hangout” are no longer counter-environments on a geographical plane, connected by T-birds and “fun, fun, fun.”  Nonetheless, the wireless world is tribal.  Everyone is totally involved – and selectively involved – at once.  But Gen Z has no geographical plane or counter-environments that define its rituals.  And “privacy” is gone.  “And this I think this has been one of the big effects of the electric age.  It has deprived people really of their private identity…  Everybody tends to merge his identity with other people at the speed of light,” prophesied Marshall McLuhan, in 1977.

Gen Z uses portable devices in safe zones.  Gen Xers, like myself, use portable devices in unsafe zones.  Before I got a cell phone in 2001, I did two things before leaving home: I’d pat my back left pocket and my right front pocket, checking for wallet and keys.  Now, I pat my back left pocket, front right pocket and my front left pocket, checking for wallet, keys and phone.  I feel “safe” when I “get around” with these three.

Of course, these are generalities.  I’m doing armchair sociology.  I’m not lauding or lamenting.  No judgment.  It’s just what I see.  An existentialist moment.  Maybe I’ll see differently next year.  Stay tuned.  One thing is certain: “Generations come and generations go…there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:4, 9).  Man is fallen.  Man is redeemed.  Our hope is Jesus Christ.  The Word made Flesh.  He ate and drank from the Earth.  He turned the “fruit of the Earth” and the “work of human hands” into his Body and Blood.  The Sacrifice.  The Mass.

“He's an old hippie, and he don't know what to do. Should he hang on to the old, should he grab on to the new?” (Bellamy Brothers, 1985)

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33)

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