When the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6th 1945, a hundred thousand candles were all snuffed out in a second. World war II was ending, and if there was ever going to be a testament to the monumental loss of life that had happened in six short years, the US had just provided it. Still, “one good boom deserves another”, as some might say, and only two decades later populations worldwide were rocketing. It was like it had taken not one-but two global conflicts-to kick the human species from its slumber. But even as the tides of war receded, it was clear the flood-waters of “the baby boom” were there to stay. And that was generation X.
It was a post-war dream with picket fences and radio static and rock and roll. Against the backdrop of civil rights protests, missile crises and the space race, the youth of the time took center stage and made the most noise. Sitting in suburban front rooms, they watched Martin Luther King march on Washington. We call them black and white TV sets, but back then a different type of colour was issue. The summer days of childhood wouldn’t last though. The older brigade of characters were spent. Eisenhower, Churchill et al were like lazy dogs; content to count their victories and die happy on the old family rug on the porch. But beyond the garden gate the new pups kept scrapping.
And so with a JFK gunshot ringing in their ears, drugs in the air and rage in their hearts, it was generation X who were off to fight fire in the east, with hardly a senior year of high-school between them. Vietnam was a sort of rite of passage, a process, a requirement-a calamity.
Across the water one of our parents got a lash for creaking the desk. And so their generation tried to sit still and shut up, even if every day was patched clothes, a penny here and there and a couple “our fathers” before they got a chance to get out to their friends. It was rain and it was wind and it was an Ireland that didn’t even know where it was heading because it couldn’t see outside of the confession box. But by eighteen it was a trade to your name and money in your pocket and a chance to head down to the local on a Friday. It wasn’t perfect but they managed to get by with a little sweat and a good deal of dignity.
This isn’t a “ah sure times were better then” piece. They weren’t. On any given day your grandad hadn’t enough bread to throw to his children. A good half of the grandmothers saw their dreams of work die behind a kitchen door. Your parents couldn’t even have dreamed up the privilege of your childhood if they’d wanted to. And how could have they? It didn’t belong to them. It belonged to generation Y.
We were born out of a different war. The 80s was like a car engine cutting out. The economy stared our parents in the face and told them to stop pushing their luck. But eventually when you’re broke down you have to turn the key and hope something is left in the tank. Even if it’s nothing, it’s closure.
What our thirty-something mothers and fathers found when they shifted into gear was that somebody had been working on the roadways. Suddenly things weren’t as stop-start as before. Avenues were opening up everywhere. People wore ties and had savings. Families went to the south of spain on package holidays and people spent wages on loan repayment for a house with three bedrooms. It was comfortable and getting better by the second. And in the middle, sat us.
We were the proverbial “90s kids”, as much associated with tacky coloured rain jackets as we were with Nintendo games and Britney Spears. Our mornings were digging into cereal boxes trying to find the toy, our afternoons were flicking between Rugrats and a Disney VHS and our evenings were trying to work a dial up connection while our mother was on the phone. It was a 60s childhood on LSD with a lot more money and a tad less religion. School was more “BN biscuits” than beatings and by age twelve you’d got your first taste of the 21st century when someone dropped a phone in your lap.
So simple only 15 years ago. It had text, Snake, and if you were lucky, a camera. Your first phone was underused and overvalued and only three years later it was rubbish. By the time we moved near secondary school we started to forget the rules of “bulldog” and “Mother May I” and focus went towards sports and indoor games. Toys were now in a box in the attic and every child was glued to a playstation 2. Those spring nights when you’d came running home after a game of soccer and a round of Tip the Can with half a dozen fly bites up your arm were fewer and further between and soon people had shiny new Xboxs that you didn’t have. The space race our parents watched was lagging behind the technology race of our childhood. In ten years we went from mobile phone to camera phone to smart phone; the transitions getting quicker and quicker. Internet was no longer a question of “how fast” as “for how long”. At age fifteen we had a reason to be on the internet. Social media was a thing now and important factors like profile pictures and top friends were up for discussion. The ghost of your 15 year old dad passed you on his way to a job while you sat muddling over how many “x’s” to send back to a girl you might have met once at a disco.
Girls and boys still played by the same rules only now your phone was the middleman. He was a really lousy middleman who said nothing much outside of “Wuu2” and “haha” if he was in a good mood. Things like “I’ll text you” were dead and now it was “I’ll talk to you on facebook”. You had 228 friends on facebook and one of your friends had 50 more. It mattered.
After the age of sixteen life started to take the backseat role to social media like the whole thing was a big satire. Twitter had joined the ranks now. It was shorter, snazzier, sexier and had a fuck load less meaning to it. Facebook statuses got saved for special events like a birthday while Twitter was your day to day place to listen to everybody whine about the 21st century hangover they’d been born into. We lashed out at our parents and researchers claimed “things were the same 50 years ago.” You staunchly believed it and carried on with your mid-teen hormonal rants not ever stopping to notice how nobody seemed to talk to their family anymore. You knew it because they were talking to you, on a screen, over an internet. They were plugged in. They were unavailable.
By the time college was in your sights, the internet had gone exponential. It was still only a teenager itself really. You had login details for about 15 different pages even though two years ago it was just keeping track of what your facebook and email passwords were. It was the time of the “photobomb” and the “hashtag” and trends. You didn’t want to spill a drop from the cup that was your newsfeed. You wanted to see it all, and like it all, and share a few bits if they would get you likes in return. You only retweeted the best bits and favourited anything else, confident you’d need to have those stored somewhere for some reason or other later. TV, the biggest advance of your childhood, was starting to look a little dated. Netflix, project free tv and putlocker had dethroned it. Even Youtube was only living off the scraps of the viral video, but you didn’t have any room for sympathy.
Now in college, your effective social life revolved around social media. It wasn’t about “what you were doing” as much as “what you were seen doing”. You planned nights out, classes, etc on facebook chat and might have text as a last resort. You didn’t have phone numbers for reasonably close friends because you had their facebook.
Half the college was filling up your newsfeed with some new social justice campaign. It was Ladbible vs #YesAllWomen and you weren’t really sure where the substance of communication had gone anymore. You ended up in more fights with your friends because the wrong emoticon meant something to somebody. It was no longer necessary for people to get mugged to be attacked because people were writing stuff about them all over websites. Bullying in person had become so uncool. Everybody who was anybody was doing it online now.
You clicked into a link on facebook and seemed to lose half a day.
You were “seen at 14.28” but nobody was replying yet. It had been 10 minutes.
You weren’t sure whether to add first because only losers added first.
You stalked people’s pictures and then pretended to laugh that concept off like you didn’t actually do it more than you cared to admit to yourself.
You tortured yourself over people’s J1 pictures and their new boyfriends.
This isn’t a “put down your phone” video. It isn’t inspirational. But it is borderline truth. It’s dramatised and it’s cynical but it’s not dishonest or far-fetched.
Is this the right way forward? Or have we all bought into something we probably weren’t ready for in the first place?
Either way, we’re more detached than ever, but I hope Generation Z don’t look back and blame us for what we’ve done here.
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