It’s amazing how often we hear sayings like, “Kids these days…” or “When I was young…”. I can hardly go a few days without someone from my generation or later bemoaning our kids’ generation, calling them lazy for not doing all of their chores with a smile, whining that they aren’t as smart as them since they need calculators, and so forth. But is that true? Is every new generation getting progressively worse?
No, absolutely not. The below comic from XKCD shows how, for two hundred years, we’ve been complaining that some new technology or invention is destroying our ability to interact with others.
Our children are not losing their ability to interact with others just because they have a tablet or smartphone, just like previous generations didn’t lose their abilities to interact because of TVs, Walkmans or magazines. G-Man and T-Rex have had tablets for nearly two years, yet they seem quite capable at playing with other children, playing Lego for hours on end, reading books, playing dress up and so forth. Sure, the insanely fun Duck Game has invaded our lives with force, but it’s a passing thing. (Having said that, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a bit of extra peace of mind through locking down the WiFi during the late evening since it’s true that staring at a bright screen can impede falling asleep or even getting a good sleep.)
Just as generations complain about their kids and technology, so do they (we) complain about the state of letter writing. Has e-mail (or should that be Snapchat? Twitter? Instagram?) destroyed our basic abilities to communicate? Again, it’s another lie we tell ourselves. In truth, we’ve been complaining about how technology has destroy our communication for centuries. Here’s another XKCD comic with a bunch of (very real) quotes that could easily seem like they were being said today (it’s long, but worth a read):
In his 1907 Cambridge dissertation, Kenneth John Freeman wrote about complaints directed against the youth in ancient Greece. The elders of the time thought that children had “bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect to elders, and a love for chatter in place of exercise”. Further, he writes that “children began to be the tyrants, not the slaves, of their households. They no longer rose from their seats when an elder entered the room; they contradicted their parents, chattered before company, gobbled up the dainties at table, and committed various offences against Hellenic tastes, such as crossing their legs.”
In other words, we’ve been complaining about children being rude and lazy for thousands of years. It won’t stop any time soon, but next time you start to utter “Kids these days…”, perhaps stop yourself and wonder if attributing something to all kids is really a good idea.