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Kids These Days III


 

Don and Vinod have replied to my reply to their reply to my column about today’s yoot.  Their latest is in The Mark, published here.

I’ve gone through their piece a few times, and the only thing I’m sure about is they’ve substantially shifted the terrain of debate. As they argue, what’s really at stake here is not a generation gap per se, but a fundamental shift in social identies, on a par with the transition from tribal or ethnic identities to the rise of nation-state identities in the 18th and 19th century. Now, it’s the demise of the nation-state —  thanks to globalization, technology, population mobility, and so on — that has triggered what they describe as a “seismic shift” in our identities, with Gen Y feeling the full brunt of it.

And so:

In our view, identifying the skills and supports young people need to cope with this kind of change should be one of our highest priorities as a society. We cannot simply assume that a whole generation will have the internal resources to figure it out for themselves. This new world has caused an identity shift; with it comes a new challenge that demands that we rethink many of the structures, attitudes, and relationships of the old world. There is no turning back the clock.

I have thoughts on this, but I’m not sure they are good thoughts. Anyone here want to chime in first?


 
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Kids These Days III

  1. What?! They couldn't figure it out for themselves? Sounds like out of touch Boomers who are green with envy, incapable of thinking outside the box, dude! This stuff is so Political Science 101. *yawn*

  2. The piece in the Mark is interesting, but I'm always suspicious when 'globalization' is rallied as an explanatory force. Why, for example, would the disintegrating effects of globalization dislodge youth from their social units more than other generations?

    And I tend to find globalization is utilized in a fuzzy manner at best, alongside references to changes in the family, and boundaries erected between new and old worlds. Not that there's nothing to any of it, but too often those changes are asserted without clear explanation and in a self-evident manner.

    The whole notion of extended adolescence is one that ought to be more fully explored before discounting. The profound changes to Chinese society as a result of the one-child rule (and the resulting 'coddling' and intense attention lavished upon children) would make for an interesting comparative study. Last time, I mentioned the creation of youth as a discrete cultural/consumptive segment of our society (using Sinatra, the Beatles and Elvis as an example), and I really think there's something to that (not just because I raised it!).

  3. The piece in the Mark is interesting, but I'm always suspicious when 'globalization' is rallied as an explanatory force. Why, for example, would the disintegrating effects of globalization dislodge youth from their social units more than other generations?

    And I tend to find globalization is utilized in a fuzzy manner at best, alongside references to changes in the family, and boundaries erected between new and old worlds. Not that there's nothing to any of it, but too often those changes are asserted without clear explanation and in a self-evident manner.

    The whole notion of extended adolescence is one that ought to be more fully explored before discounting. The profound changes to Chinese society as a result of the one-child rule (and the resulting 'coddling' and intense attention lavished upon children) would make for an interesting comparative study. Last time, I mentioned the creation of youth as a discrete cultural/consumptive segment of our society (using Sinatra, the Beatles and Elvis as an example), and I really think there's something to that (not just because I raised it!).

    And if you really want to get sociologically geeky about this, I'd consider the writings of Max Weber (who explored shift toward an atomized society) and Emile Durkheim (the shift from mechanical to organic social solidarity) before embracing globalizaion as a causal force. Both did some very grounded 'heavy lifting' in trying to explain the changes underway in the late 1800s and early 1900s – and much of it can still inform our understanding of today's world.

    (p.s. – Andrew, I promised you some time ago I'd explore anthropological writings on restaurants. From what I can find, the focus has been far more on the staff and relationship to the society, than the particular dynamics of ordering – so that book remains unwritten!)

  4. The piece in the Mark is interesting, but I'm always suspicious when 'globalization' is rallied as an explanatory force. Why, for example, would the disintegrating effects of globalization dislodge youth from their social units more than other generations?

    And I tend to find globalization is utilized in a fuzzy manner at best, alongside references to changes in the family, and boundaries erected between new and old worlds. Not that there's nothing to any of it, but too often those changes are asserted without clear explanation and in a self-evident manner.

    The whole notion of extended adolescence is one that ought to be more fully explored before discounting. The profound changes to Chinese society as a result of the one-child rule (and the resulting 'coddling' and intense attention lavished upon children) would make for an interesting comparative study. Last time, I mentioned the creation of youth as a discrete cultural/consumptive segment of our society (using Sinatra, the Beatles and Elvis as an example), and I really think there's something to that (not just because I raised it!).

    And if you really want to get sociologically geeky about this, I'd suggest the writings of Max Weber (who explored shift toward an atomized society) and Emile Durkheim (the shift from mechanical to organic social solidarity) before embracing globalizaion as a causal force. Both did some very grounded 'heavy lifting' in trying to explain the changes underway in the late 1800s and early 1900s – and much of it can still inform our understanding of today's world.

    (p.s. – Andrew, I promised you some time ago I'd explore anthropological writings on restaurants. From what I can find, the focus has been far more on the staff and relationship to the society, than the particular dynamics of ordering – so that book remains unwritten!)

  5. The piece in the Mark is interesting, but I'm always suspicious when 'globalization' is rallied as an explanatory force. Why, for example, would the disintegrating effects of globalization dislodge youth from their social units more than other generations?

    And I tend to find globalization is utilized in a fuzzy manner at best, alongside references to changes in the family, and boundaries erected between new and old worlds. Not that there's nothing to any of it, but too often those changes are asserted without clear explanation and in a self-evident manner.

    The whole notion of extended adolescence is one that ought to be more fully explored before discounting. The profound changes to Chinese society as a result of the one-child rule (and the resulting 'coddling' and intense attention lavished upon children) would make for an interesting comparative study. Last time, I mentioned the creation of youth as a discrete cultural/consumptive segment of our society (using Sinatra, the Beatles and Elvis as an example), and I really think there's something to that (not just because I raised it!).

    And if you really want to get sociologically geeky about this, I'd suggest the writings of Max Weber (who explored the shift toward an atomized society) and Emile Durkheim (the shift from mechanical to organic social solidarity) before embracing globalizaion as a causal force. Both did some very grounded 'heavy lifting' in trying to explain the changes underway in the late 1800s and early 1900s – and much of it can still inform our understanding of today's world.

    (p.s. – Andrew, I promised you some time ago I'd explore anthropological writings on restaurants. From what I can find, the focus has been far more on the staff and relationship to the society, than the particular dynamics of ordering – so that book remains unwritten!)

  6. Sorry to use so much space, but one more thing comes to mind:

    Cross-culturally, and throughout much of human history, societies have generally had some rite of passage to denote the transition from child to adult.

    While there are some segments of our own society that still practice this in some ways (bah mitzvahs, confirmations, etc.), we largely leave the boundary between chlldhood and adulthood rather ethereal. And it's a loss, I'd argue for many reasons – one of which may be a young segment of society who feel no symbolic or pragmatic importance as members of society.

    • Added to that they/we are not having children. For most of human history, being an adult has been nealy synonomous with being a parent – for about the last 25 years that has no longer been the case. This has fundamentally changed the understanding of adult hood and responsibility. (I think this is the case anyway, I'm 28 and as yet, have no children).

  7. Are the yoot rejecting religion, nationalism and corporate culture in favour of more collaborative and creative forms of organization?

    I think so and if so, it would partly explain the disconnect.

  8. We have a political system that doesn't recognize the flexible thinking of young people. Voters still have to cast ballots in single member ridings under the antiquated First-Past-the-Post voting system.

  9. Anyone here want to chime in first?

    Beats me. I don't understand who any of these people can consider global conformity complexity in the first place. It's not real complexity; just a "lot of stuff."

  10. I did not read any of Vinod's previous articles, so this comment might be slightly unfair, but based on the article linked in this post, I do not believe he has successfully argued any of the four points he states.

    He argues the world is less cohesive and more complex now than…when?… but I don't really see the argument that the world is less cohesive and more complex than 50 or 100 years ago.

    "Borders and boundaries of all kinds are constantly shifting and changing, as are roles and responsibilities."
    Again, this seems to be no more the case now than it has been…ever.

    If society really is undergoing a fundamental shift in the basis of our identities, equivalent to the shift from tibal/ethnic/religious identities to national ones that occurred in the 18th century then what are moving towards? Identities centred on what? Is that their point, that we don't know yet?

  11. Sure. In fact, I would bet anyone choosing to have children between the ages of 18 and 24 would face some subtle questioning, pressure,or assumptions along the lines of the pregnancy being unplanned or foolishly undertaken "too young".

    For most of the examples I can think of, rites of passage into adulthood were strictly divided along gender lines, which might be another avenue to explore: we are increasingly moving beyond biological 'constraints' in the realm of reproduction, sexuality, and even gender roles (which are cultural to begin with, and don't fully belong on that list), which may further make it difficult to denote a boundary between child and adult.

  12. Lenihan and Rajasekaran start every argument by assuming the thing they want to prove. We are about to go through a period of huge social change because we are going through a period of huge social change is all they are saying in varying guises.

    And really? A bigger change than the first half of the 20th century when people moved from rural to urban areas, when telephone, telegraph, car, and airplane were invented? When indoor plumbing became common, when medicine doubled life expectancies, when two world wars happened, when Naziism and socialism killed hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now it's going to be different because kids in Sri Lanka are going to have iPods? Sorry, I don't think so.

  13. I agree with Matthew here and Andrew's point that generational subtleties "extremely difficult entities to pin down with any rigour."

    If society is moving away from the "nation-state" ideal, then it already crosses generational divides. James Bow made this point in a interesting post last year (http://bowjamesbow.ca/2008/03/12/and-the-walls-c….

    We do talk about generations way too much. It ignores the reality that all of us are living through much of the same experiences, globalization, internet, power of technology, world affairs instead of national affairs (climate, energy, use of outer space, etc.)

    Younger people may absorb and react to this differently than elder people, but, so what? All of us react in different ways, and it is the collective results that change society whether seismically or by inches. My money's on the inches.

  14. I also wonder about the account of history that Lenihan and Rajasekaran give us. Yes, some rather important changes did happen in the 18th and 19th centuries but they had nothing to do with any single generation of youth.

    • Speaking of generational shifts…..

      How much of an impact has the Internet/Blogs made to the world of journalism? Now that you can interact quickly and informally with your readership, it has to affect the way you work and the viewpoints you hold.

  15. I have a comment stuck in moderation purgatory on the your other post which links a study which looks to me to be pretty relevant to this discussion. I'd repost the link, but I'm at work and am somewhat short on time.

    As a "young person", I'm quite wary of getting into this whole meta-discussion of if the challenges young people face and the changes we're adjusting to are somehow unprecedented or whatever as I don't find it serves much useful purpose; we have to adjust and we have to deal with it regardless of the context. The question here should be "how do we solve the obvious issues around youth engagement?" or "do these issues need to be solved?" rather than "are young people facing a unique environment?" or whatever. Framing it in this way might be a nice debate to have at an academic level, but it avoids directly addressing some pretty critical issues.

  16. Consider also that over the course of the past 50 years or so, the number of places for youth to get engaged has grown exponentially. In the mid-20th century, you were a scout, or a girl guide, member of a religious group and/or a hippie-protester.

    Now, communities have local organizations numbering in the dozens in which youth can play a special/specific/organized/ entrenched role. Community sport, charitable, and cultural organizations are always looking for volunteers (and their numbers have exploded in the last 50 years!). Choice has increased, so it has resultingly become increasingly difficult to keep track of how youth participate, because it's not just about one or two big groups anymore, it's a huge marketplace competing for youth attention and time. So long as voting is portrayed as a component of that "youth engagement" it becomes part of that competition, and gets drowned out.

    Youth don't vote as often as older people – they never have, and probably never will – but if we portray voting as a way of getting involved, rather than a civic duty to promote what makes us great (or somesuch), we're not making a unique or memorable case.

  17. I am a younger person, and I think their comments reflect quite a bit of narcissism and hubris, and in some ways demonstrate Potter's point. Every generation feels that their experiences are unique and like nothing ever before them, etc. Then these people grow up, mature and realize oh, maybe things aren't so different after all.

    I'm pretty sure that JulesAIm is right that the first of all their account of history has nothing to do with generation gaps or generational changes and I'm also agreed that the changes going on now are not of the kind that were seen over the course of the 20th century.

    I think Andrew Potter nails it perfectly when he says that they shifted the terrain of the debate. I'm surprised how quickly is became a "ahhh things are changing, and Gen Y are feeling the brunt of it" piece

  18. We cannot simply assume that a whole generation will have the internal resources to figure it out for themselves

    Narcissist. Patronizing. Elitist. Why on earth would other generations be better equipped? This is some of the same self-obsession we've seen in their previous arguments.

  19. I can cite, if you'll allow me, a 2007 David Brooks Op-ed entitled < a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/09/opinion/09brooks.html">The Odyssey Years. In it he talks about some of the research surrounding the new social category of "post-adolescence". I thought it was pretty interesting then, and perhaps much more so now. I also think the relatively large gains toward gender equity, and the number of women within the labor market (close to near parity with men) are historically anomalous features that shouldn't go without mention.

    So, if the question is "are traditional institutions less relevant to non-stakeholders? (i.e the generational cohorts on the margins of the political and economic establishment), then Andrew is correct in saying that eventually we'll get older and "flaccid" and care more about childcare and social security, which makes a lot of sense. But it elides a larger point that I think Don and Vinod do a really poor job of getting at.

    Let's put the question a different way. Instead of thinking about generations as anthropologically fixed artifacts that float through history unchanged, let's identify them as moving "ideational targets" that tell us something interesting about broader sociological trends as perceived, lived in, and reacted to by demographic cohorts. Now, if the question is, are generations both historically interesting and meaningful? then we would have to accept that there are a number of trends (above) that would diminish Andrew's "flaccid" conventionalism. This is the point, I think, David Eaves was getting at.

    I say this, of course, with a view of the long run, insofar as the institutions we have today will not be the institutions we have 20 or 30 years from now. But, ultimately, in the long run we are all dead.

    • "But, ultimately, in the long run we are all dead."

      Arriving at that sentence was the best laugh I've had all day!

      (no offence meant if you were being serious, by way – I read your comment in entirety with great interest)

  20. I can cite, if you'll allow me, a 2007 David Brooks Op-ed entitled The Odyssey Years. In it he talks about some of the research surrounding the new social category of "post-adolescence". I thought it was pretty interesting then, and perhaps much more so now. I also think the relatively large gains toward gender equity, and the number of women within the labor market (close to near parity with men) are historically anomalous features that shouldn't go without mention.

  21. Hey, great. I'm in my mid thirties and I'm tired of changing the world. Their turn. Took them long enough. Go kids go.

  22. You know you can test cohort/generational effects empirically (at least with respect to voting behaviour – google scholar "cohort effects + voting". There are studies out there that are reasonably supportive. On a more impressionistic basis I might also point to the 21 point gap between 65+ voters and 18-29 year olds in 2008 (versus a much smaller gap in 2000, wherein old people were the MOST likely to vote Democrat). People do not necessarily get more liberal as they age. I think generations do exist most prominently in terms of framing. Our sense of the possible (and impossible) is at least partly based on our experiences. For instance, statesmen old enough to remember the Munich agreement are much more inclined to think of appeasement as futile and to laugh at things like the Kellogg-Briand pact. Alternately one could imagine a look of awe from young people today if you presented them with carbon paper. It is just not in their tool kit (though at least they don't psychologically have to resist the pressure to press enter after each line of text in MS word, as my mother does).

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