We moldy holdovers from the 20th century must admit now that it’s 2014, that the 21st century is much different from how things used to be in our Leave it to Beaver days. Young people born in the 1990s will have a hard time even understanding our old ways. And why should they? As a writer I should spend less time focusing on the past because more and more of my potential audience will have no understanding or connection to it.
On the other hand, I don’t think I can ever become a post post-modern, or whatever we should call a 21st century individual. I just can’t move my head into the Twitterverse, and have a hard time even using Facebook, which evidently is becoming passé with the younger generations because they’ve already moved on to newer technologies that I don’t even know the names of. Even more, I really can’t imagine myself wearing Google glasses, or modern fashions.
But I have changed a lot. Is that even interesting to the 21st century citizen, that a 20th century person is adapting? If I live to be 100, I’ll have spent roughly half a century in two different centuries. How long will it take to become a completely 21st century person? Is it even possible to catch up? Will 20th century folk always be on the trailing edge of 21st century living?
In history and literature, the term modern means early 20th century, and by the time I was born I was growing up in a post-modern era. That kind of talk is completely alien to a true 21st century mind. What do they call their post post-modern lives?
In the world of science fiction, we talk about post-human cultures, and post-humans and trans-humans. We expected genetics and other cyber technologies to transform humanity into something new. However, we thought they’d be physically different, but what if that’s not true? What if merely growing up in a high tech culture makes that generation significantly different? Hell, us baby boomers growing up in the 1960s thought we were significantly different from our parents who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s.
Would it be possible for a 20th century person to catch up and even surpass a child of the 21st century? I have 50 years of wisdom and knowledge they don’t – won’t that count for something? I also have 50 years of reading science fiction and thinking about the future that should give me some kind of edge. But is thinking about the future of equal value to growing up in the future? I don’t know.
When I sat down to write this essay I intended to write a completely different essay. It was originally called “How New Technology Changed My Old Lifestyle.” But as I wrote the first few sentences I realized the more interesting question is: Can my older mind catch up with newer thinking? And if I’m having a hard time, how do the Gen X and Millennials feel? If must be confusing for a Millennial (Generation Y) to think of themselves as the cutting edge generation and realized they’ve already been surpassed by the latest crop of youngsters, which some people are calling the New Silent Generation or Generation Z. Hey, it’s a bitch getting old, get used to it.
And even though modern teens walk the tech walk, and talk the tech talk, do they even have a clue as to what the fuck is going on? Is living in virtual worlds almost 24×7 of any real value other than hiding out from the real world? Did rock music and dope confer anything special on us baby boomers that made us more savvy about reality? Is being hip a real survival trait? Can you transform the world into a better place with just smartphone smarts and social media savvy?
I think the real trans-human mind will think with scientific clarity that requires seeing with statistics and math. The real power minds of the 21st century won’t be Twitterers, but data miners. Talking in 140 characters only leads to snippy gossiping skills, if you want to conquer the world you’ll need to be able to digest petabytes of data at a gulp, and convert it into graphics that show visual insights that transcends text. In other words, if you’re only nibbling at tech, you won’t get far. It’s the super-geeks that will inherit the Earth.
To answer my title question, yes, it’s possible for baby boomers to excel in the 21st century but only if you ignore the glitter of tech glamour, and go deeper. In every generation it’s the folk that can tell shit from Shinola that succeed. Technology is transforming how we live, but I’m not sure it’s transforming us in how we think. People still think the same stupid stuff, but just say it in 140 characters or less.
Probably the real 21st century citizens have yet to emerge. And all the tech we’re seeing is a kind of churning of digital conversions, transforming culture more than people. Does it really matter that you watch TV shows via broadcast TV, cable TV, or Netflix TV? 19th century people would feel superior to me because I’m not smart enough to hitch up a team of horses. I’m thinking the difference between old humans and post humans are whether or not they can comprehend what David Deutsch writes about in The Beginning of Infinity, which is the ability to effectively evaluate knowledge. Sadly, I’m just as far from understand that as I am at understanding the Twitterverse.
JWH – 1/8/14