A few days ago a friend, who is about to turn 25, commented to me how as a child they used to think 25-year-olds were “grown ups”. As though there was a magical cut-off at which point you cease to enjoy the things children and teenagers do and instead become a stuffy busybody.
They followed this by saying “I see kids look at me the same way, and I think man, I’m just fudging my way through. I have no idea!”
With my own adulthood looming in slightly more than two months time, it’s a thought I’ve been unable to shake.
This week I was fortunate enough to interview a band I was ridiculously into as a teenager. So much so I made embarrassing videos I regret as an adult. The two members I spoke to are now 37 and 38 and the band has been together, with an unchanged lineup, for 20 years.
The theme of changing times came up a lot. This is a band which formed when CDs were still a relatively new thing and to put one together, even in the form I took for granted as a teenager where I could download a bunch of songs and put them together in Nero in under 20 minutes was unheard of.
But not only has technology changed, the aging process and what it means has as well.
If I was my age in my grandfather’s generation, there is an incredibly high chance I would have already seen armed war by now. Pushed through basic training and shipped off to possibly die in a field or jungle surrounded by people I did not know six months prior.
If I was my age in my father’s generation I would be feeling the pressure to have ‘made it’ by now - this in the face of the 80s sharemarket crash. I’d have a career sorted and potentially a beau and house. Maybe even a child - when my father was my age I had already been around for 3 years.
And yet now those things have changed. This is the ‘free’ generation but stuck in between. I can remember when banks closed on the weekend. I can remember milk BOTTLES being delivered, these heavy but fascinating pints filled with milk dropped off into metal baskets next to letterboxes by a truck which circled the Palmerston North streets with its Dixie horn alerting people “hey if you haven’t gotten your tokens out yet, you better hurry!”
I recall the rich kids in highschool getting minidisc players and flashing them in our faces, only to be shown up by the middle classes who got these chunky, unwiedly bricks called ‘iPods’ a few months later. They could hold thousands of songs! I still don’t understand why a person would want that many - searching for one I really want to hear is an exercise in tedium with the 200 limit I self-impose on mine, but to each their own.
I remember making mixtapes. Genuine mixtapes. I had a 2-deck cassette player which allowed you to dub from one tape to the other. I’d leave a 2-hour tape rolling, recording The Edge or ZM or something. Then dub the songs I liked to the second. Sometimes those songs wouldn’t get played for hours. I remember doing similar with VCRs. I still have some of those VCRs. I’d sit with them recording, but paused, watching M2 or Juice TV when we got Sky or DJ Sir-Vere’s Holla Hour and when one came on I’d scramble to hit record.
Now I can just go on YouTube and experience instant gratification.
Back then the music industry ‘controlled’ the radio waves. I remember the first time hearing ‘Clint Eastwood’ by the Gorillaz. Nobody knew who they were! Now every day I discover to new, exciting, obscure music none of my friends like. Such as this, this and this.
If you half heard a song you enjoyed, but didn’t know the name of, you’d have to wait days, weeks, months before a chance encounter with it again. To this day there’s a song I remember seeing on M2 called “bee bop” or similar. Its video was a cartoon of a kid chasing a ball or something. I’ve heard it once since, in a Wellington bar called The Southern Cross in 2008. I still don’t know the name or band.
But if I were to hear it again I could simply load an app on my phone which would analyse the song and give me a link to instantly download it.
Which is another point. Cellphones! Only fortunate people - usually derided by jealous peers - could afford the first few generations. And they were mainly pointless. Why could you possibly need to call someone so urgently it can’t wait? Then text messaging came in. I remember watching a friend of my mother’s try to send a text message on one of those old Alcatels. You could only see like 12 characters at a time, and it took him 45 minutes prodding at it like a jellyfish on a beach to send something similar to “Ok I will see you around 7”. It would have been faster to call.
The next big thing was pxting, which came in when I was around 4th form. You’d send incredibly pixellated pictures of stupid things to one another. It cost $1 per pxt. Now news agencies use pictures reporters have taken on their phones to show off an accident scene.
We are all so interconnected today. Personal phonecalls are now considered mostly redundant. Just send a text, or tweet, or Facebook message, or HeyTell. Multitudes.
In those wartime days of my grandfather, widows would receive telegrams notifying them of the death of their beloved. Then weeks later they might receive a letter he sent days or weeks before he departed on his final excursion. In the days of my father calling someone at their house was a chore and if they weren’t home it just rang and rang and rang until you got bored and gave up. Changing plans at a minute’s notice wasn’t possible because the other party wouldn’t be able to find out.
I remember a free magazine, can’t recall its name, from my tween years used to advertise penpals on its back page. Less than two years later sites like Hi5 and MySpace would launch, the precursors to today’s social media where I follow people I have never, and will never meet in the United States, Kenya, Australia - even New Zealand.
And the argument for desensitization I think is strong. The antics of Nirvana or Dennis Rodman in the 90s would today just be regarded as quirks or pathetic attempts at attention seeking. In today’s day and age a multi-millionaire can abuse his multi-millionaire girlfriend, the whole thing playing out in the public eye, and just a few short years later his fans will be over it - and even those who don’t like it will be saying ‘so what, move on’. I can watch videos like this and find it funny rather than disturbing.
An athlete who fought very publicly to be treated as an equal to able-bodied competitors can be accused of murder and people fall over themselves to be the first to make jokes hinging on his most obvious ‘flaw’.
Not to say all things are bad. In my parents’ age (and still today) showing compassion or expressing emotions as a mid-20s male would be greeted with a “what are ya, gay or something?” One of my parents’ friends who I try to avoid said that to me multiple times over the course of a few days during a Christmas vacation for minor transgressions such as putting product in my hair.
Now though I have very good friends who are openly gay, or lesbian, or transgender, and extremely comfortable with their sexuality. New Zealand society may not (yet) allow them to marry, but it allows them to be themselves.
I am allowed a lot more freedom than my grandfather 60 years ago or my father 25 years ago (ages have been rounded up). Should I so desire my voice can and will be heard, though my biggest impact on one individual’s life could simply be a tweet passing by in their timeline, shared by a mutual follower. Narcissism is no longer to be avoided, it is to be embraced and you should totally show off the thing you made for dinner, or bought online, or drew in a university lecture to the unfettered adulation of your friends. Or followers. For some people those lines are blurred.
It’s not that this is bad, it is just different. And causes a new crises. in a world where everybody has access to a voice, who is going to care about you? And what are the new expectations on me, the mid-20s heterosexual male.
There are still some pervading expectations lingering from my father’s generation. The fact I have never been in a long-term serious relationship is looked down on by peers. That I have accepted the probability I will never own my own house a reality. I am still expected to work through my own emotional problems internally - looking for help is still perceived as a sign of weakness, an eternal disappointment for me whenever I see a new report of a teenage suicide.
But really are there any guidelines? Will whatever I do be acceptable, or will it be a disappointment, a sign of my generation’s laziness? And what example do I need to set for the future generations - ones which will hopefully never see scenes like Rodney King but will likely experience horrors more intense than 9/11 as the need to shock increases exponentially with every desensitizing atrocity committed.
Growing up in the days when a baseball videogame with three buttons was advanced, and now people like Bungie are planning videogames which send you text messages to keep the story going while you’re at work or on the bus. Or movies like The Dark Knight Rises which despite being hugely anticipated for two years before its release felt the need to put out a campaign on Twitter and Facebook just to reveal one still image of the film’s villain?
How do you explain to these people the simple luxury which used to be a 20 minute walk to the movie theatre, to pay $6.50 for a ticket, and seeing a bunch of trailers for movies you didn’t even know were coming out? Or that it used to be if you missed an episode of your favourite TV show that was it - it was gone into the ether?
How do you show them you are mature and responsible and “adult” without seeming like a boring dinosaur from a time which no longer exists - at just 25?
Only 6 years ago I played my first game on Xbox Live. I still play it nightly. I have a lot of growing up to do in the next 83 days, or do I just wake up different?