I've been to this year’s Coachella music festival. I know who Kid Cudi is. I have a Twitter account. I can use the word, “epic” un-ironically when describing something far less than “epic.” I’m critical of hipsters, which I think may make me worse than a hipster, though I don’t have an ironic mustache or an Amish beard. I listen to Top 40 radio, but will switch over to Hip-Hop or Alternative when I inevitably get bored.
In my mind (and perhaps nowhere else), I’m cool.
And yet, I still haven’t figured out how (or why) to use Instagram. I don’t know what the hell a “bitcoin” is or what I would buy if I had one/them. I still have to catch myself at Starbucks when I try to order a “Large” and I can’t understand why anyone would want to be on a reality TV show or post an online “selfie.” I write checks on a monthly basis to pay some of my bills, even when I have an online option, and I still prefer books to Kindles.
So, I guess, not that cool.
In a weird convoluted amalgamation of past and present, I did “high-five” David Hasselhoff at Coachella. I may have been the only one there who knew who he was. He looked at me. I looked at him, and I said “Hasselhoff.” He high-fived me and gave me a look that seemed to say, “Thank God someone here knows who I am. I can now write off my Botox expense.”
I don’t think of myself as old (any more than Hasselhoff does) but I’m surely not young. I guess I’m stuck between Baby Boomers and Millenials. I’m allegedly part of Generation X (though I’d prefer to think of myself as an X-man, awaiting my mutant powers to kick in).
Gen-X-ers are defined by the truth-telling Wikipedia as those folks born between the early 60’s and early 80’s. Unlike our historical predecessors, our generation will be known as the ones that broke the economy, screwed up the environment, tainted the food chain, endangered the bees, introduced texting, brought in a new Tea Party, and damaged the moral fiber of our children. While some see that as a horrible legacy, I see that as the result of a whole lot of hard work. That much destruction doesn't happen without some effort, people. You really have to put your back into it.
I want to apologize to future generations, but my apology wouldn't be earnest—I’m not sure exactly what we’ve done wrong. If we Gen-X-ers are guilty of anything it’s this: confusion. We don’t know what the hell we’re doing.
There are many things we deal with today that we had no training to handle. Our parents couldn't model parenting for the post-internet generation. They used coal, washed their own cars, saved money in mattresses, whacked away on typewriters, cooked with lard, picked up hitchhikers, used phone books and phone booths and dialed the operator to make a long distance call. They didn't have to navigate cell phones or the Web. In fact, if your parents are like mine, they’re still afraid of both their phone and the Internet. Just try leaving them a voicemail. Yeah, they’ll get that message real soon. It’s no wonder theirs is called the “Silent Generation.” They have nothing to say about this technology or the rules that govern it. Just mention “net neutrality” to one of my parents and you’ll stop the conversation faster than a fart in church. And that's really saying something. They don't go to church and really love a good conversation.
Still, Gen-X-ers should get some credit for ending the telegram and killing VHS rentals, right?
Fast forward to now and our kids can go anywhere they want with anyone they choose and never leave the house (I’m talking the Internet, people). Web Chat, Skype, FaceTime – these were not even part of the vocabulary when I was a kid. Want the best route to avoid traffic—while driving!—they now hold the tool in their hands.
Our kids are not self-conscious. They’re self-assured. They think they deserve to be famous. That’s what comes from the “everyone-gets-a-trophy” policy. But now, everyone gets a reality TV show. Sixteen and pregnant in our parents’ day meant a sudden and long trip overseas, not cameras in your house to capture every moment of the next nine months.
I got an earring when I was 21 and it was scandalous. “What does that mean?” I remember my father saying.
“It means I got an earring.” I replied. I was a smart ass even then.
Now, I see kids with hula hoops through their noses, doorknobs in their earlobes, hooks in their lips, and tattoos on their faces. And they work at the bank! No scandal. Just curious stares from Gen-X-ers like me who are confused. Here’s our big secret kids: we don’t get it. We try, but we don’t.
That doesn't mean we don’t have opinions about what you do. I can’t claim to speak for everyone (or anyone, really), but here’s what you may consider an old person’s rant, a dispatch from the X-men:
- You haven’t mastered an issue because you saw something about it on the Internet. Awareness is not the same thing as knowledge and understanding. Expertise is not built on a single Google search or a Reddit AMA (look it up, old people). It’s not enough to just have an idea or an opinion, inform it by working on it. For a while. Work pays off. Really. For instance, I’m working on my own opinion right now about whether or not a hole the size of Ohio in your ear is something to be concerned about. So far, I think maybe.
- You don’t deserve to be famous. You should have a skill or a gift or have done something worthwhile before you are publically recognized. I beg you, do not make a sex tape. I’m just gonna say it. And not because I’m prude or judgey. I just think the faces you’ll make will haunt you forever. In short, if you get famous, you should earn it. And even then, you shouldn't take it for granted. "Teen Mom" isn’t your ticket to stardom. It’s serious and worrisome, and filled with real challenges. Fame is fleeting. Ask MC Hammer. Don’t know him? Exactly. Look him up. Or, just high-five David Hasselhoff.
- Actions have consequences. The day will come when you have to take the door knob out of your ear or the hula hoop out of your nostril and you’ll look like a droopy, damaged, old man, even if you got that door knob when you were a svelte, 17 year-old girl. These are called consequences. Think about later when you make choices today. Later is like tomorrow, but maybe even a little later. Look it up. I can wait.
- Have a non-digital backup plan. Electricity is generated by machines and those machines don’t always work. It’s true. Machines sometimes stop. The Internet relies on electricity. If the electricity goes out, and the Internet stops, will you shut down just like the machines? What happens when you unplug? I don’t mean to scare you, and this may sound crazy, but once upon a time—no Internet. I’m just suggesting here that you may want to ponder a backup plan for those times you won’t have Internet access. It could happen. They still print dictionaries. Just saying.
Now, Gen-X-ers don’t have all the answers. Some say we don’t have any of the answers. Though, by now, I’ve surely convinced you that I’m not only cool, I have discovered my mutant power and it’s the ability to offer sage and useful advice for every circumstance. Even if all of the Gen-X-ers don’t have all the answers, we do have a few questions.
We aren't the Silent Generation. Those are your grandparents. We’re the loud ones. Our first question, or maybe our last is, who will take care of us when we’re old and needy? We want you young people—Millenials or Gen-Y’s or Robots or whatever they’ll be calling you—to have the right skills to fix the things we broke. We want you to heal the damage we caused and to put things right that went wrong on our watch. Bring back the bees. We want you to be better, not so self-involved or self-destructive, but visionary and creative and hopeful and fresh. Your tattoos and piercings and attire and music all imply that you are creative and unswayed. You're fearless and energetic and full of ideas. But we also want you to have better lives, more answers than questions, and the respect of your own children.
We’re just saying that all that work might be easier to do without a face full of fishing lures or if you aren't distracted by all that you can see through your ear lobe. Real solutions to real problems are worthy of your own show. And you can still take a selfie when you’re all done.
I might even write you a check.