The older I get, the more I realize I'm rather old-fashioned and possibly born in the wrong time and place. It's not so much that I'm nostalgic for antiquated values or uncomfortable gender roles, but rather that aside from an addiction to Tumblr, most of what my peers relate to or share as a common experience is foreign to me. Go back a few generations to the Gen X's and Baby Boomers and the same remains. I'm not particularly cut out for the modern world.
I am generally a terrible excuse for a millennial, especially when it comes to pop culture. I wouldn't know a Kardashian if one hit me in the nose, I don't like most pop stars (or music) and I'm only made aware of their existence through other people. I've been known to say that I prefer music made by instruments, not computers, and tend to default to Miles Davis over Miley Cyrus. I think most reality television is trashy and is not only dumbing down our society, but teaching us to be the worst variations of humanity. As globalization makes the world smaller and digital information grows like a wildfire, we seem to become so bogged down in the minutiae that we lose sight of the bigger picture. With the world's current events at our fingertips it bothers me profusely that we choose to look at celebrity pregnancy photos instead of being informed about the world around us.
I'm obsessed with traveling, but I prefer to go where no one can find me. I start in well-known destinations -- London, Edinburgh, New York City, the Outer Banks, New Orleans, Colonial Williamsburg -- spend a day or two suffocating in the masses of humanity and then flee. Flee to the open roads, crashing waves, soaring mountains, sheer cliffs, vast fields and the rural blink-and-they're-gone towns. Places where my phone is a useless brick, wi-fi is a joke and Starbucks would be on Mars before it plants its feet in these areas. I find my mind most at ease far away from the trappings of modernity, where nothing binds me to other people except common decency and manners. And while the Internet may help me stay in touch to those nearest and dearest to me in far-flung lands, I cherish the moments when I am completely out of its grasping claws.
I miss the days when learning was an end unto itself and not another cog in the job machine. Times when the humanities and arts were revered for how they shaped individuals into thinking and creative human beings capable of operating outside their very focused skill sets. Back when music and philosophy majors were hired as often as those with business and finance degrees because they could think critically and solve problems creatively. Skills that couldn't be taught were valued over those that could be relayed with on the job training. I deplore the status of our educational system that forces teachers to teach kids to pass tests and fails to inspire the joy of discovering new knowledge, and instead reduces school to the lowest common denominator. School should be hard and grades are not candy to be given out for existing. I think that dictating that "everyone is a winner" may spare feelings but does little to build long-lasting confidence in one's own abilities nor self-awareness of their weaknesses. (I'll point to the hordes of people trying out for singing shows whose voices make their dogs go deaf as evidence.) People who think they are already the best (regardless of their actual talent) are unlikely to keep growing and learning; to strive to learn and do better because they don't think they need it. As Plato said, "I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing," but I guess that's not common knowledge anymore -- if there's no funding for the arts in schools, I highly doubt there's room for philosophy on a standardized test.
And therein lies the rub. I care about philosophy and history, I believe that if we want to know where we're going we have to look to the past and understand the thought that led us there, the mistakes made and the lessons learned that should be repeated. I don't think that just because something is "new" or the "latest and greatest" that it is necessarily better, or that change for change's sake is valuable. We must not become a stagnate society, but when we're all running so fast and not looking up; too busy, too self-involved, too trapped by our cell phones and tablets and 24/7 jobs to "see the world in a grain of sand" (William Blake, "Augeries of Innocence"), then what is this innovation for? What do we aspire to? What good are we seeking to achieve? What is the great perhaps we are off to seek? I don't know and I see little to give me hope. We have become a reactionary society -- quick to take offense, quick to judge (and judge those who judge), and quick to throw it away for the next big thing.
Perhaps I'm just a curmudgeon at the ripe age of 28. It would explain why I tend to get along best with 80+ year old men. We sit around and talk about the world wars and argue about America's lamentable and lackadaisical approach to European involvement between 1914 -1950. I've tried this with my friends, who are by and largely brilliant and smarter than I am, and after about five minutes of me discussing the parallels between the pre-First World War build-up and the ongoing issues in Syria, they're even giving me the "wrap it up, Katie" look. It's the heart of my social awkwardness, the part that makes grandparents love me and their grand-kids move along. My interests and values are not theirs and I can only hide and fake it for so long before that eminent divide becomes obvious.
I don't fear the future or wish that all the progress and strides we have made for equality would disappear. I do not wish I lived during a world war -- no one is nostalgic for Hitler or the blitzkrieg and has any sanity within them. It's too easy to look backwards through the hazy lenses of time and think the past reflected better days -- it came with its own problems and variations of the same we face today. But I do wish we spent a little less time rushing headlong into the undefinable quest for "progress," and spent a bit more time evaluating our actions, slowing down the pace a bit, and living in this world instead of obliquely rushing through our short time here. Or maybe I just wish I fit in a bit better with this day and age.
Originally posted on Literally, Darling, an online magazine by and for twenty-something women, which features the personal, provocative, awkward, pop-filled and pressing issues of our gender and generation. This is an exact representation of our exaggerated selves.
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