The Paradigm Shift of Generational Relations
by P Segal
Ever since the dawn of human society, there’s been an invariable pattern in the course of generations: people lived, gained experience and wisdom, and passed their information on to the generations that followed. Over time, people evolved better and better systems for doing things, developing what we might call professional standards. These standards of excellence got passed along with the wisdom, and each young generation, in turn, eventually became the one that was wise and knowledgeable, the consolation prize for the aging process.
A sudden change rocked humanity in the latter years of the 20th century, when the personal computer appeared to alter the way in which everything was done. At first, few people had them at home, but had to learn how to use them at work. Gradually, the computer became a fixture in most people’s houses, especially after constant attention to issues at the office became part of the average worker’s evening. Most recently, a computer has become a fixture in most people’s pockets and the almost-constant focus of their attention.
The younger generations gravitated immediately to the new technology, and infants born in the ‘90s started playing with keyboards a lot more than blocks. Use of technology, for those children, was one of the things learned along with language and physical skills. While millennial children were developing discernment and social skills in their frontal lobes, they were also absorbing computer skills, which, in many cases, are a substitute for discernment or social skills. Knowing what to do with computers got hard-wired into those children from the womb.
Now 14-year-old geniuses are coming up with solutions to the increasingly complex issues of the Information Age. Technology has become a multi-headed Gorgon, as computers have made so many things possible, including tracking the obsessions, desires, interests, spending habits, and bad habits of just about everyone. The increased power of our personal computers has extracted a price. Your computer can do this or that thing, but only if you have this particular other thing, that specific operating system, and are running X and Y other programs that support it. And all those things are in a perpetual state of upgrading, which necessitates upgrading all the other bells and whistles that are essential to its functioning. The relentless pursuit of systems that are faster, better, and brighter creates definitive job security for the technologically brilliant young.
The millennial child, with a technologically upgraded brain acquired in the crib, doesn’t seem phased by the dizzying appearance new technological gizmos and the constellation of attendant upgrading headaches. A member of an older generation, with the flawed, old-school brain wiring, can be completely confused by a new tech marvel, and needs to find the first available teenager to show him or her how to use it. And so, for the first time in human history, it’s the young who are teaching the old how things work.
The computer industry is full of bright young minds, predominantly male ones, who have their own obscure language and view of the world. No one would argue against the fact that computers have become indispensable. They run our businesses, cars, communication, social lives, commerce, banking, education, libraries, medical technologies, and so on. Unfortunately, our reliance on computers makes us slaves to the bright young techies, who add daily to the razzle-dazzle of this overall improvement and answer our pleading calls to help desks, or give us incomprehensible instructions on forums, when no live person is available to save us, which is most of the time.
Young techie wizards get out of school, or don’t even get through college, and enter the workforce at salaries others aspire to make, after decades of professional promotion. They don’t need to maintain a wardrobe of conservative business suits and freshly pressed button-down shirts, but go to work in sweatpants and Hawaiian shirts. In San Francisco, the epicenter of this phenomenon, they don’t have to get on crowded public transit, or even have a car, because their company sends a bus to pick them up at designated stops around the city—or now, they are transported by boat, because the population at large resents the private buses. These tech people are apparently too important to the operation of the planet to suffer the annoyances of living near work or commuting under their own steam. This is why they make so much money and take all the good apartments in San Francisco: we’re lost without these providers and interpreters of technological complexity.
Clearly, they are that important. If the network is down, the normal flow of business, and most of the rest of life, comes to a frustrating halt. Most of us can’t do a thing about it. Our dependency on the young geniuses at Apple, Microsoft, and all the other companies that control our destinies is crushing and absolute. And just in case we haven’t figured that out yet, they keep developing those upgrades that reduce us, with great regularity, to idiocy once again.
It would be ideal if it were only a matter of time before all the Luddite non-techies die off and the whole world knew what to do with technological improvements. However, because the computer industry never seems to hire anyone with a gray hair, the eminence grise at those workplaces might be pushing 40. The CEO might be middle-aged, no longer working on technology directly, just managing the way in which the new stuff can become utterly indispensible and planned obsolescence can insure that the bottom line always looks rosy. With the money earned as a tech worker in their younger years, the elders could own the company, and even houses in San Francisco.
There’s not much chance that the hapless older generation will some day be gone. As a result of the computer industry’s ageist hiring practice, there will always be an older generation, stuck in the knowledge of how things used to work, in the good old days of the G-3, Windows 7, and antediluvian Microsoft Word Version 4. Perhaps if they were former techies, those older folks might have a clue about new technology and what to do with it, or if they were technologically inclined anyway, they might have the brain wired to get it, without enlisting the help of some savvy young person.
Some people of the older generation might remember the terror that struck at the end of the 20th century, when the Y2K threat brought the planet to an absolute state of panic. All the best techie minds raced to make sure that the planet didn’t stop revolving and humanity wasn’t forced to do things manually once again. No one anticipated Y2K until it was practically upon us, which suggests that some other colossal disaster might come along some day and render computers useless. At that point, one hopes that the old methods of getting things done will have remained in someone’s memory, just in case they are needed to restore a normal balance to human interaction.
If such a disaster were to arise, the old might serve a purpose once again. Until such a moment surfaces, the young control the planet. Some might say that the older generations screwed things up royally, and they’ve got what they deserved. Perhaps they have, and are humbled by this paradigm shift that has changed the meaning of human wisdom. Education in technology has gradually replaced the things that were important for millennia, like art and history. Perhaps at some point, some youthful minds will discover the coolness of those old-school priorities and develop an app for them. In the meanwhile, learning to use social media has replaced the things held dear by intelligent minds for centuries.
The worst of it is that there’s no redress. A person can refuse to do anything requiring a computer and read newspapers, make telephone calls, buy things in brick and mortar stores, drive cars that work mechanically, send letters through snail mail, and so on. But we all know how much of a difference that will make: none at all. Opting out of the paradigm shift only relegates people to the category of hopeless Luddite-ism—and the heartless contempt of their techie overlords.
Nonetheless, it could get worse. Brilliant young techies might start to look away from their computer screens and at the potential for their power. A concerted effort of industry giants could threaten the world with a total shutdown, unless their demands were met. They could say, “Look, either you politicians get rid of GMO food, or we’ll cut you off.” Perhaps it’s just a matter of time.