“What’s most notable is not that this generation favored “founders” but that they did so at the tender age of fourteen. How frightened of these young people should we be? History is unkind to the losers, but it’s crueler still to the Olds, whose ideas about social order, technological apocalypse, and dancing have a way of looking ludicrous through the scrim of time. Should we fear the rise of a master race of friendly capitalists who launch businesses left and right, while weaning us off Social Security and cold-shouldering those who can’t afford the premium, Zendesk-supported nursing homes that they will no doubt found?’—Nathan Heller, The New Yorker
If it walks like a curmudgeon and talks like a curmudgeon, it’s probably Nathan Heller from The New Yorker. This quote hails from a 2015 article written in response to MTV’s documentary that asks American high school students to coin a new term for their generation. Overwhelmingly, students chose the term “The Founders”, likely because of the implicit nod toward creativity and innovation. As it would appear, not everyone is pleased with the selection. Nathan Heller outlines some of his concerns in the aforementioned article, but I have a few theories of my own as to why my generation (X? XY? Millenial? Z? Whatever.) may have some reservations about this label.
Technology is seen as a shortcut.
We’ve all heard some variation of the “In my day, we walked uphill both ways in a snowstorm…” story. We all listen to them sourly, ignore the lesson, then eventually end up retelling our own. My own story is about taking notes in high school and college. I usually feel it creeping out during vocabulary units in my classroom, when all of the students are gathered around the SmartBoard taking photos of the words on their cell phones. I’m bitter. It’s lazy! Come on, guys! Writing is a form of interaction, and it takes at least three interactions to engage your memory, etc. It all seems so silly and unnatural, but you know what? It’s a shortcut that works. Those same students put the words into an app that cycles through them in a review game or generates a quiz. It’s an instance when I have to admit that my reaction is dictated by a lack of opportunity. That would have saved my grade in Spanish I. So, as inconceivable at it sometimes seems, those shortcuts through technology are the kinds of brilliant innovations that give our next generation the opportunity to go further and learn faster. It’s an advantage, and it would be silly not to use it.
Face-to-Screen interactions are not real interactions.
This is a popular critique of The Founders: They are so connected to their devices that they’ve lost the ability to communicate in real life. Their social development is stunted. They don’t understand people. They can’t empathize. And so on. Here’s the problem—we do not have the capacity to articulate somebody else’s experience. The feeling I get when I take that first sip of coffee in the morning is not universal; you will never understand the ecstasy I feel when my toddler finally falls asleep for her nap. Likewise, I will never truly grasp the ways in which you love your wife, or mother, or brother. What I’m saying is this: the reality of an experience can be determined only by the people involved. We may not understand it, but that does not change its value. This generation is feeling and communicating just as passionately as we did. They just may have the option to delete some of their thoughts before they become regrets.
Documenting does not equal Experiencing.
Finally, a point that I’ve seen made almost daily across a variety of memes (ironically!) is that our next generation is too busy documenting the super awesome lives they live and are forgetting to actually live them. It’s an easy criticism to make, and the thought is ever-present in the more important moments of my life. I feel an odd aversion to having my camera out, or having a camera on me, when big things are happening. When my now-fiancé proposed in front of forty people at our family Christmas celebration, there were at least ten cameras recording my response. Absolutely no part of me wants to see one of those recordings. Why? Because that moment is sacred to me. It exists as completely as I want it in a memory, and seeing it again would alter something that is already perfect. My feeling this way, however, does not invalidate the millions of teens who DO feel the need to document experiences in their lives. They are asked to validate their lives every day through social media, a platform we are asking them to learn in order to more fully compete in a global economy, and telling them now that they’re too busy documenting and are missing out seems like a cruel joke.
If we can find it in ourselves to accept that this new generation just may be more innovate, more creative, more free-thinking than the previous ones, well….it’s a tough pill to swallow. The biggest hurdle is getting past our own insecurities about the changing world we inhabit. I can take a photo with dog ears or a flower crown, but I don’t actually know how to send a Snapchat. My mom knew how to create a Pinterest board before I even had an account. We are entering a new and exciting time when generations are being bridged because of technology, not in spite of it. So, give them a chance to surprise you, Heller. If you’re lucky, The Founders will be ready and waiting to assist you when your wi-fi goes down and your web article is due.