Saturday, July 14, 2012

Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Saw this the other day in line at the store. Two aisles over, phone rings, a woman, perhaps 75 or so, takes said phone out of her purse and looks at the screen as the phone continues ringing. "Which one do I press again?" she asks of her grandson, I imagine, a young man of maybe fifteen, or so. "Top left," he answers, not really disrespectfully (especially by today's standards), but with some attitude, let's just say. But the woman doesn't press the button in time and the ringing stops. Still she holds the phone to her ear and speaks into it.

Over the course of the next minute or two, her grandson tells her that the call went to voicemail, then explains what voicemail is, explains that the new sound she then hears is telling her that she has a voicemail and that no, it isn't another call, tells her to hit the center button to listen to the voicemail, then takes the phone from her when she stares at the front of it for too long (maybe five seconds), hits the center button, then presses in her password and places the phone to her ear saying (more attitude now), "Hear, listen." When the brief message is done and she asks what to do now, there is some rolling of eyes and pronounced exhaling and...well, you can imagine the scenario, I'm sure.

This is not a rant against the youth of today. This is not a rant against the tide of technological advancement. This is not a rant, but rather, an observation.

Somewhere in our not too distant past, we, as a society, came to despise age and glorify youth, and since "Never trust anyone over thirty," was something of the mantra of the Baby-Boomers of the Sixties, it's not too hard to pinpoint when that happened. The Boomers borrowed the notion (perhaps unwittingly) from Thoreau, who spoke of age as not being a better instructor than youth. Of course, Thoreau was only thirty himself at the time, and began from the standpoint that most men lived "lives of quiet desperation," so, even the great H.D.T. was more than a little biased when it came to this assertion.

At any rate, the problem is not in the sentiment that youthful enthusiasm and idealism offer something of value in the public discourse. Past thirty myself now, I still believe this to be true. But there is a problem with how this elevating of youth has manifest itself in modern society. The Boomers who once revered that youthful idealism now revere Botox. They reacted so strongly against the "Father Knows Best" culture that they helped create the "my kids are my best friends" culture. They don't just want to be part of their kids' world, they want to be their kids. And the march of technology hasn't helped matters at all, to be sure of it.

As soon as little Johnny becomes aware that Granddad has never sent an email, isn't on Facebook, thinks a tweet is Elmer Fudd's description of a candy bar, well, think there's any chance little Johnny will grow up thinking he's got a whole lot to learn from Granddad? Simply connect the dots from there.

Of course, there is no stopping technology...and in most cases, no reason to want to, reality T.V. aside. And Botox will only be replaced by something more effective, I'm sure. Someday soon there will be better tanning machines and new surgical procedures and we can all look like Joan Rivers or Bruce Jenner well into our eighties, if we choose.

Funny thing is, Thoreau was quite the rebel for his day. A century ahead of his time, you might say. But to be truly like Thoreau now would be to cast aside so much of what the last forty years has created in our culture, to value wisdom as much as vigor, knowledge as much as short, to age with grace. And to raise a generation that understands the difference between knowing how to use a cell phone and knowing what life is really all about.

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