If you keep saying that the world will end tomorrow then one day you will be proved right. Unfortunately, you won’t be there to enjoy it.
Such thoughts are called up by the latest attacks on poor old Generation Z (that’s the bunch born from the late 1990s onwards). Much of the fury has to do with their supposed addiction to smartphones. The hypocrisy here is painful. Glance around any public place and you’ll see zombies of all ages squinting glassily at email, social media, Google maps and this excellent Werewolf Golf game. You drag the club around with one finger and . . .
Hang on. I’ll be back in a moment.
[Hours of mindless tapping later.] What was I saying before I spent the afternoon annihilating the boss lycanthrope with a four iron? The recent argument for banning teenagers from using phones reeks of a desire for revenge. Steve Jobs is dead. Mark Zuckerberg is too far away.
Who can we blame for our subjugation to handheld devices? The Young. That’s who. They’re poorer, noisier and less well connected. The Young are always there to be kicked. We are all now pod people. But the rest of us – Boomers, Generation X, even many millennials – can remember a time before the smartphone took over.
Eating their own dung
Have a look at Greta Gerwig’s excellent new film Lady Bird. Released today, the picture stars Saoirse Ronan as a teenager growing up in millennial Sacramento. The young people use their mobile phones as phones. They don’t use them as tracking devices, jukeboxes or movie cameras. Look at these people. They may as well be living in caves and eating their own dung. Which millennium is it anyway?
The generation that followed have little memory of an unconnected life. Here we are in the cafe. We glance up from our phones to find them looking at their phones and sigh about the fact that all they do is look at their phones. Would it kill them to read a book like I’m not doing right now? We have, by living long enough, earned the right to avoid face-to-face contact with our exhausting family and useless, sagging friends. They have earned no such right. Communicate with your silly little contemporaries. Chat about music and sex and pastry.
If it goes on like this we’ll be left with a planet peopled by biological automatons who connect only through the medium of tiny pictograms. What happened to the language of Shakespeare? Western society is facing its greatest crisis since the bubonic plague. Would you ever go outside and kick a ball? You’ll get square eyes looking at that box all day. Is that a man or a woman? That’s not music. That’s just shouting.
It is a commonplace that all generations make the same mistakes when young. Drink, hair, shoes, sex. Those sorts of things. It is less often noted that all older generations also repeat ancient errors. In particular, each wave of human believes that the one coming after is going to Hell in whatever stands in for a handcart. This has been going on for centuries, but it accelerated in the second half of the 20th century.
The opprobrium layered on the Baby Boomers for their long hair, cacophonous music and tieless shirts allowed them to become indescribably pompous when Generation X dared to be younger adults than them. No veteran of the second World War was so self-righteous as the Boomer explaining that he’d bought Are You Experienced? the day it came out.
The X mob were, apparently, feckless, numbed and politically unengaged. And that awful “dance music”? Why, it’s so dreadful I’m going to place withering inverted commas around the words. Those whinges lasted throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Come the new century, Generation X and the Boomers joined forces to ridicule a coming set who cared only for Tinder, gender fluidity and avocado toast (the latter in preference to house ownership, apparently).
That last moan still goes on. The likes of Bill O’Reilly argue that “snowflakes” are destroying campuses in different ways to the ways Boomers were supposed to be destroying campuses during the Vietnam War. Now, we’re rounding on the generation that comes after that.
Every cohort believes that it has the monopoly on wisdom. Sure, the Edwardians were wrong about the uselessness of the Lost Generation between the wars. Yes, a lot of nonsense was talked about misbehaviour in the naughty 1890s. Rock’n’roll wasn’t “just a phase”. Modernism wasn’t just an excuse for lack of talent.
Yes, civilisation always survived and blossomed. But this time is different. This time we’re in charge and the young generation really are a dangerous cadre of lobotomised clods. This time it really is the end of the world.