Time magazine has a cover story this week about the millenials (or “generation y” that followed “generation x,” which is me) and how lazy and selfish they are. Which might be vaguely interesting if this hadn’t been said of every generation since the beginning of time about their children. Elspeth Reeve shows articles going back more than a hundred years saying the same exact thing.
Here’s a 1907 article in The Atlantic, saying:
“The rock upon which most of the flower-bedecked marriage barges go to pieces is the latter-day cult of individualism; the worship of the brazen calf of the Self.”
In 1976, Tom Wolfe declared that the “me decade” was upon us. The very magazine that published this story said the same thing in 1990 about their parents:
“They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder… They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial… They postpone marriage because they dread divorce.”
This is a variation of the Paradise Lost myth. As we get older, we look back on our youth as some sort of gilded age and are sure that everything is falling apart today. As I like to say, even the nostalgia was better in the old days. But you know the real source of this myth? Getting older. What we are remembering is not how much objectively better things were before, but the fact that we were younger. We were healthy and strong and full of hope, and we yearn for those days and romanticize them.
Now get off my lawn.