Generation Gap and Common Spaces

 

Gramps Getting His Swerve On (at the Apple Store)
Gramps Getting His Swerve On (at the Apple Store)

 

I am reading and seeing so much of the older and younger generations these days…but not together. I am watching old people freak out on Fox News at anti-health care rallies and young people throwing their hands to the heavens in despair that Twitter is down for another day. It is like I am bouncing between two similar but frightfully different parallel worlds.

At first I chalked these worlds up to blue states and red states, then maybe the educated and the less educated, or perhaps the urban and the rural. Sadly, I think it may just be a case of the old and the young. But why does this seem so different, so extreme?

Throughout America’s history, we have had common spaces, “marketplaces of ideas.” In theory, these common spaces served as places for America to share ideas and opinions. Our Grandparents and parents read the same newspapers. They saw the same articles, read the same letters to the editor. They went to the same movies, and saw what was cool or fashionable at the time. The first 40 years of TV still didn’t have that many choices. Multiple generations watched the Beatles and evening news on the same TV together.

Our parents and their parents may not have shared taste in music, food, fashion, or politics; but they shared much of the same common space. When women took the work place, they all saw Alice on TV, they saw the Jeffersons movin’ on up. Everyone saw the same news of JFK and then Nixon. They sat around and all watched the same footage of Viet Nam.

But now old people read their papers. They go to television stations that cater to an aging news audience. Where did all of the youngsters go? We ran to the Internet, which spares us having to listen to anyone we don’t want to. We traded papers for blogs and TV for Hulu. We dial into a custom channel that serves as an echo chamber for our own world views. With hundreds of channels, tens of thousands of blogs, millions of tweets; we have no more common space. The youth of America is listening to niche marketing, but I think we know that we are a little out of touch. We wear our irony as a badge.

What scares me though is not that we are not listening to each other in a true common space, we left the previous generation behind. We left the common spaces they stayed in. Our grandparents had a chance to see the Beatles, to see Viet Nam, to watch interracial couples and then the Huxtables show up in their living rooms. They shared a space with the next generation and were challenged to see things from their point of view. We have abandoned our parents and grandparents to an out of touch ghetto. I am not sure if my Grandma would find 2 Girls and Cup much of a world view worth sharing, but it seems kind of disappointing that instead of engaging with the other generations in our common spaces, we just didn’t bother.

If we seem out of touch to each other, its because we are.

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