There are a few things that I need the older generations to learn, though I’m not entirely sure where the age breakdown is. I know there are some intergenerational problems that need to be solved, but I can’t just address the baby boomers or everyone prior.
Look, I get that things changed overnight for many of you, and you’re not quite certain how to integrate this New World into your Old World View; you don’t really understand how things function for a lot of us and that many of us actually want to be productive members of society. But I’m afraid that a lot of the misunderstandings keep cropping up from a few different places.
We’re Not Ignoring the World When We’re On Our Phones or Computers.
We’re not, really. People who are important to me are in other countries; they are literally on the other side of the planet for me, regardless of direction. My family is in the US, one of my closest friends is in Brasilia, two of my closest friends are Melbourne, and another is in Sydney; the people that I care about the most are not anywhere near me. I want to talk to them, too; if I have free-time, it’s my right to spend it with them, even if it means I’m “ignoring the real world around me.”
But I hate that you seem to think “real” is offline, when many of us have cultivated better friendships online than those forged in high schools. Some of my friends are people who I’ve never met face-to-face, but that doesn’t diminish the five to ten years of effort that we’ve put into maintaining our relationship. Just because I haven’t met them in person doesn’t mean our friendship is any less valid than the guy you’re friends with now because he’s the only other person left of the 50 people you went to high school with or was the one person you were capable of tolerating in your entire class. We all build our relationships differently, and you really should respect that.
You also didn’t grow up when chatrooms were a big thing; I did. I grew up having time after all of my school-related extracurricular projects – Model UN, Youth & Government, music, sports – wanting to wind down by chatting to people in the comfort of my own home. I grew up in a place that literally did not cater to anyone under the age of 21, so there weren’t any fun places to go socialise that we were legally allowed to be or didn’t cost us an arm and a leg. Cities and towns often forget that there are people under 18 or 21, and we’re not really given places where it is acceptable to socialise.
You what they did when I was in high school? They tore down bowling alleys and skating rinks to replace them with Home Depot and a larger Wal-Mart. Try being a kid when your accepted public spaces are being dismantled. You’re going to seek out other options.
And as a result, many of us turned to online spaces. Most of the people I talked to when I used AIM were people who I saw at school. Why were we using instant messaging services? It’s the same reason kids text now, and it’s the same reason many of us are on social media: It’s absurdly easy to communicate with other people, especially if you can’t be where they are.
You honestly need to stop complaining about how we “don’t socialise” or “are incapable of doing it properly.” We had to find ways to get around the lack of time our parents had for us because of work, and we had to find ways to get around the lack of places for us to go; we found an easy alternative in online technology. You know what that means? Our socialisation online is just as real as the socialisation offline.
Some of Us Actually Care About Other People.
I get a lot of unsolicited advice. When I’m upset, people seem to think they need to solve my problems for me rather than actually let me do most of the work myself. Look, I’m not asking you to do it for me. But among the unsolicited advice are three things that really grate my nerves.
First, I’m frequently told that I’ve “got to look out for me” because “no one else is going to do it.” This is usually paired with someone telling me that I “have to do whatever it takes to survive” and that “it doesn’t matter who gets used in the process.”
I know that’s a big part of today’s work environment and has been something that’s been in use for as long as people who are alive today can remember. I get that, but I don’t agree with it. Maybe it’s the culture I was brought up in, maybe it’s the values my parents hammered into my head when I was growing up, maybe it’s the unintentional lessons I learned from my father’s greedy siblings, or maybe it’s something I’ve picked up along the way from all of my friends and the various protests we’ve engaged in; I honestly don’t know. But that is not who I am, and that is part of the working culture I find it superbly difficult to get behind.
I really feel that we all need to look out for other people, and we need to look out for and help other people who have fewer resources and less access to spaces. I feel like we need our working culture to be more empathetic, allowing people of varying backgrounds to enter those spaces. They need to be more willing to engage with minorities, women, queer people, neurodivergent individuals, and people with disabilities; they need to be more open to enabling these people access not only to the working environment but the services they need in order to function within those spaces.
And the same thing applies to education, regardless of if it’s in primary school or a postgraduate program in a university. We need people to understand that some people need more support than others and that support has to come in varying forms. We’re not asking you to ignore us and let us get on as we are, and we’re not asking you to bend the rules for us; we’re asking you to allow access to these resources, regardless of who needs them.
This doesn’t even begin to start with the links of how disgusting it is to profit off of services aimed at many of those individuals; it kind of makes me cringe.
You Should Do What You Love!
This is the second most common piece of advice I get is to do something I love. Unfortunately, most of what I love has been devalued so much that it’s even losing ground in elementary schools. I’m not going to say that it’s impossible to make a living doing something that you’re passionate about, but the likelihood isn’t there unless you’re severely lucky (and even then, if you’re from a specific background).
People who have time to dedicate to their passions are really privileged, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many of them recognise that they were able to drop their part-time or full-time jobs in order to pursue something that is much more stimulating to them, and they know they were incredibly lucky to have that choice. Most people don’t.
I love researching incredibly bizarre things, ranging from strange historical events to random science questions that pop into my head; I have a strange passion for understanding ISO standards and how countries interact with them. I love researching things from GMOs to the Great Emu War. I cannot make a living off of doing that right now; I haven’t found a way to put those passions to use for monetary gain, if I can at all.
But I also love teaching high school, and I’m watching countries dismantle their education systems brick by brick. This is an area I’m most passionate about, and it’s why I trained to become a teacher in the first place (even if I’m struggling to find somewhere to work). If they’re not dismantling them entirely, they’re funnelling funding to very few areas, like STEM and sports. We want our students to be more capable of science and maths, and that’s great! We want them to be able to work in teams, and that’s wonderful! But what about students who have a passion for social sciences? Or those who love art and music? Or those who love languages and writing? How about the kids who love working in teams for debate clubs, Model UN, or other political extracurricular activites?
Even in terms of STEM, we’re devaluing wonderful fields like biology because we’re focused on whatever is the “most economical” of topics. You can make money by being some sort of engineer, children! Go do that and forget whatever it is that you love because we’re not going to encourage those fields at all! I find that exceptionally problematic.
Not all of us can do what we love because it’s a hard mentality to get out of. We’re being told at every corner that what we love isn’t viable; it doesn’t make money, so it doesn’t make sense to even keep it. And with the way our world currently works, we need money for even the most basic needs (food, water, and shelter). When what you love has no economic value, you basically resign yourself to being poor and having to do everything else to make money; the easiest way to see this is to look at the world of artists, who are constantly made to devalue their own work. This is a big shift from the days in the not-so-distant past where we had people who wanted to be patrons to artistic endeavours.
Just Go Get a PhD!
This is the third thing that makes me want to vigorously rub my face on a cheese grater to keep myself from shouting at someone. There are so many things wrong with this that it just boggles my mind that it’s still seen as a viable answer to people who are having problems getting by.
First, I’ve already done eight years of school. I did five years full-time in my undergraduate studies; I worked multiple jobs on top of taking a full load (and sometimes I was one or two classes over full-load to graduate one year late). I didn’t get the best grades because of the lack of support for students and the heavy workload outside of university; I had major issues because of personal relationships that no one cared about, even though they impacted my academic ability.
I did another three years in post-graduate because I took out FAFSA loans to finance it; I still worked on top of them, sometimes for my program’s practicum, sometimes for a small tutoring firm aimed at helping low-income kids in the area, and sometimes for volunteer work to help work on environmental education policy. All of that was because I liked doing it, and those were areas I wanted to work in. All of which were areas that were hit by a really bad budget, forcing me to look for opportunities elsewhere.
I’m tired of being a student, especially considering universities aren’t built to cater to students. They’re barely built to cater to academics and research, and that’s what we all believe they exist to increase access to. I actually want to stop being a formal student because, though I enjoy being a lifelong learner, I do not enjoy sitting in academic hell trying to meet the standards of a handful of people who may disagree with me. I like disagreeing, I love debate, but I – like everyone else – find it infuriating for someone to invalidate my lived experiences because of their own. That happens far too frequently in academia, and it is largely due to the lack of diversity in staff.
On top of that, I don’t feel emotionally capable of being a student again. The last three years had me on edge, never knowing what I was doing; my programs largely dragged on because people couldn’t find me practicum placements, others promised me placements and then forced me to scramble to find one on my own, or I was made to drop classes and rearrange my schedule at the absolute last minute because they didn’t have enough intern placements despite knowing five months in advance how many people were taking the internship course. I did it, but it really frayed my nerves. And at the end of the day, while I did get some pieces of paper showing I completed some programs, I didn’t actually get the knowledge I really wanted or do as well as I could have in my coursework.
And then there’s the issue of money. I don’t have the finances, without taking on more FAFSA-related debt, to do a PhD. Unless someone wants to fund my research or provide me a grant and monthly stipend, it’s pretty hard for me to just be a student again. And what does a PhD offer me in terms of economics? What can I do with two or three more years as a student? It actually keeps me out of the workforce, which makes it really difficult for me to get back in later, even though I’d only be in my early 30s when I finish.
Just Go Get a Job!
This might have been possible prior to 2007, but many of us who graduated from high school or university into the Global Financial Crisis have had an astoundingly difficult time securing employment. Many of us lack the skills necessary for what’s defined as entry level, which generally asks for a minimum of 3-5 years’ related experience. And if you haven’t kept up, those of us working while doing our degrees probably weren’t working for companies in our desired field; we were mostly working retail and service industry jobs.
That isn’t to say those jobs are beneath us, but even they are hard to come by today. Add to that other economic pressures (location, access to a vehicle, requirements to purchase some of your ‘uniform’ clothing or accessories from your job, scheduling with other jobs), and you’ve got a bunch of people who might have some experience in random places but not enough for entry level positions. Basically, most of us just want someone to give us a chance because we haven’t had adequate time to network our way into better positions. Or our social network doesn’t offer us those opportunities, making it harder to meet these “influential people.”
Plus, those influential people are at cost-prohibitive locations. So telling me to take up golf to go meet them seems a bit ridiculous when I don’t have enough money to buy a bicycle let alone gain access to a golf course. Head to the fancy restaurant? Well, I would love to! But unfortunately, I don’t have any clothes to meet their attire requirements, and I can’t afford most of their drinks just so I can hang out inside of them. The same tends to apply to clubs and bars, but that also neglects that I’d rather socialise in coffee shops or cafes because they’re much quieter. So, you know, I can actually hear the person talk and be engaged in a conversation with them.
But that latter part isn’t the point of the “meet the influential person” socialisation I’m being told to do. It’s not “get to know them and be friends with them;” it’s “get to know them and use them until you get what you want.” Again, that runs counter to my personality; I love people, I love engaging with people, and I love learning about people. I hate when people use me, so why would I want to use them? That’s just not who I am.
That’s not the end but…
It’s getting a bit lengthy, but that’s just some of what I wish people would learn or start to think about. Times have changed, relationships have changed, and we really need to start including other perspectives in how our world functions. I’m not against social networking, but I want a more engaged version of it to be acceptable; I want older generations to stop looking down on me because I interact with my phone when I’m outside or I take my computer to the café to get work done.
Because you know, despite the problems I’m trying to solve in the rest of my life? I still have a job to do, even if it only pays me a little bit for that work. I still have to get by somehow, and I’m doing it the best I know how in a world that is difficult for me to navigate. And I’m trying my hardest to figure out how I can manage and try to make things better for people coming after me.
But you can keep thinking that I’m an unsociable and spoiled child who wants things done precisely how I think they ought to be done, even though it’s your generations who won’t adapt to us and are largely responsible for the messes we have to clean up.
I kept making excuses for myself, for why I’ve given up on projects before I even got started, for why I couldn’t use time to write, for why I couldn’t make the videos I wanted to make or go exploring or do anything. But it’s largely been due to the fact that I’ve been spending a lot of time masking the fact that I’ve been quite unhappy and trying to cope with it.
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