I wrote this after teaching high school and realizing that I'm no longer a kid.
| I’ve been thinking a lot about the future lately. About what lies ahead for the world. For my generation. For me.
I’m 28 years old. I lie smack in the meaty portion of that apathetic, desensitized group known as Generation X. We are the lazy, slack-brained sons and daughters of our wizened and hard-working Baby Boomer parents.
I'm a reporter by trade, but before I got paid to attend tedious small town government meetings and write about them, I taught English briefly at a high school so small you could fit it on the head of a pin. I didn’t care for teaching, but that’s beside the point.
One day, a study hall full of 15 through 18-year-olds asked me to take them to the gymnasium. They asked me to do that a lot. I eventually said that I would, because it saved me from having to tell them every five minutes to stop talking and do their homework. Besides, for many of them it was their third study hall of the day, and I figured they could use the exercise.
When we got to the gym, the students spilled into it like those lunatics pressed against the front of every toy and department store in the country when the glass doors swing open at 5 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving. They swarmed to the basketballs and badminton rackets while I sat down on the bleachers to grade some papers. After a few minutes, I looked up and was mesmerized by what I saw. They were playing.
Of course, what did I expect? It was, after all, a gym, a big room in which sports are played. But I don’t just mean they were playing basketball and badminton, although they were. They were playing — these soon-to-be college students — like children. The looks on their faces. The energy. The unbridled joy of just being able to run freely and wave their arms around. The scene revived in me a sensation I hadn’t felt for some time. I was permeated by Youth, like some kind of strange radiation. I couldn’t help but smile. Then a realization slowly washed over me: I am not one of them. I am no longer a kid. I, at some point when I wasn’t paying attention, crossed over into (gulp) Adulthood. And up there in the distance...is that (shudder) Middle Age? Having nowhere to go but forward, I find myself faced with the fact that someday (stem cells willing) I will find myself to be, well, Old.
What will that be like?
My dad likes to tell me about when he was a kid. His family’s first television, he tells me, got three channels and only showed programming in sporadic bits throughout the day. I don’t have television right now. I mean, I have a television. It’s just that when I turn it on, all I get is a blue screen because I don’t subscribe to cable or satellite service. My brother does subscribe to cable or satellite service, though I’m not sure which. He gets several hundred channels.
Think about that; Let’s say 1956 to 2006. From three channels to 300 (conservatively). Does that imply that that in 2056 I’ll be telling my grandchildren about how, when I was a kid, we only had a few hundred channels, while they’ll be flipping through several thousand?
When I did watch TV, one of my favorite shows was The Twilight Zone, the old ones. In fact, I have about 11 hours’ worth on tape. I think you can learn a lot about a culture by examining its science-fiction. It always cracks me up to see what people in the late 1950s thought the 1980s were going to be like. Cars would fly. Computers would be huge metal boxes twice the size of a refrigerator and covered with blinking lights. Robots would be taking out our trash. Lo and behold, the 21st Century is upon us, and our cars have yet to cast aside those primitive rubber tires. I still take out my own garbage like a common caveman. But they were right about one thing: Computers are everywhere, although they’re much smaller and less blinky than Rod Serling had envisioned.
What’s my point here? Much has changed since my father was a tyke. Or was my point that much has stayed the same? I guess it’s both, although there really have been some big changes just since I was my own kid-dom. And things just seem (cliché, I know) to keep moving faster. This may sound a bit mean if you’re not of Generation X or younger, but it’s kind of funny to watch older people struggling with new technology. Funny, that is, until I realize that I would be as inept as a brain-damaged chimp if someone were to put an I-Pod in my hand. And what exactly is a Blackberry? Have you even seen one of these things?
The point is: I’m 28. I’m supposed to be up on all the latest techno-gadgets, but I’m not. As the years move on, I’ll probably just fall further and further behind the times. People I know and love will grow old and die. A larger and larger percentage of the world’s population will be younger than me.
In the words of an elderly icon of Gen-X pop culture, “I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it’ anymore. And what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you too.”
So what does the future hold for us American twenty-somethings? Who knows, but odds are you will, at some point, find a grandfather sitting placidly in his rocking chair listening to Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. I’m no Rod Serling, but I do feel confident in making one prediction about life in our nation in the year 2056. Five words: Old people playing video games.