Thursday, April 23, 2009
The waiting is the hardest part, pop philosopher Tom Petty once counseled, but that was in 1981, well before 24-hour banking, overnight shipping, and 30-minute pizza delivery had become mainstays of American life. Today, a new generation of young people is apparently so inured to our on-demand lifestyle that they find the prospect of deferred gratification incredibly appealing – at least if the Jonas Brothers or the abstinent vampires of Twilight show the light at the end of the tunnel. Today’s youth don’t merely endure waiting; they genuinely seem to love it.
Which is incredibly ironic. Our tweens and teens are generally characterized as hyper-distracted imps whose hummingbird brains must be clobbered with massive doses of Ritalin just to get them to sit still long enough to make a viable brand impression. In an effort to reach the fickle young, or at least the youngish, or at least the not-decrepitly old, newspapers and other media do everything they can to make their content Twitter-friendly. Even the Bible is now available in glossy coffee-table book format, complete with artsy photographs of Angelina Jolie and a hoody-clad Death.
ON CELLPHONES LACKING A FULL KEYBOARD, IT TAKES TEN KEYSTROKES TO TYPE THE F-WORD
While such efforts may be necessary to attract the attention of middle-aged cultural studies professors, are they really necessary to attract the patient, focused, preternaturally attentive young? Look at how they spend their time. As soon as they plowed through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh volume of the most voluminously documented boyhood since Proust, they began scaling the 2,560-page literary Everest, the Twilight saga.
After reading these tomes, Generation Patient write stories of their own incorporating the characters, paint portraits, compose poetry, draw comics and publish blogs.
When today’s teens can pull themselves away from dense thickets of prose, they watch reality TV, the slowest-moving form of television in the history of the medium. On American Idol, every preview is recapped and every recap previewed. On The Hills, gorgeous primates with vocabularies more limited than Koko the Talking Gorilla struggle to propel the plot forward via listless gazes, various inflections of the word “like,” and (beautifully tanned) body language. To get through either, you need the fast-forward button on your Tivo and the kind of cultivated patience only Zen monks and those under 25 possess.
When teens aren’t reading or watching reality TV, they’re tapping messages out to each other on their cellphones, like inmates in a high-security prison who’ve developed a complicated secret language because the guards don’t allow them to speak out loud to each other. Since they have a phone handy, why not, you know, just use the phone? If it’s privacy they want, they could simply speak a foreign language. On cellphones lacking a full keyboard, it takes 10 keystrokes to type the F-word – in the long run, it would be easier and less time-consuming to learn, say, Lithuanian.
Unlike the idealists behind the Slow Food and Slow City movements, who reject the fast pace of modern life in favor of more sustainable and inconvenient modes of existence, today’s young people don’t appear to be motivated by any political or cultural agenda. Instead, they seem to naturally gravitate toward static, contemplative, monotonous activities like reading, texting, and most of all, waiting in line. Not so long ago, only Star Wars geeks and diehard sports fans were so committed – and so bereft of anything better to do – that camping out on sidewalks and parking lots qualified as a reasonable way to spend their time. Today, teen girls routinely do the same – for Miley Cyrus concerts, Jonas Brothers mall appearances, American Idol auditions, even the DVD release of Twilight.