20 Prospect Jr. informed me this morning that scientists have dicovered that a goldfish’s memory will only last for 3 seconds. That explains how they can be so content swimming around a fishbowl no bigger than a wine glass. Hey look a bowl! Hey look a bowl! Hey look…
If ever there was a mascot for an entire generation, the goldfish would be ours. We are the kids who invented ADHD. Last week I was having lunch with a colleague from work, and we got onto the subject of the inordinately high rates of anxiety disorders and depression among people our age. It’s something I have thought about quite a bit, having come across statistics in the Robert Putnam book Bowling Alone that laid out the increasing rates of these disorders among American’s born during the 1960’s and later.
In my own life, I can look around at friends, and colleagues, and say without exagerration that somewhere between 15-25% of them have eithered suffered from these disorders, or have a spouse who has. I am fairly certain that this is not uncommon among most of the folks my age, and it wouldn’t take much digging around to find the statistics to back it up. But what interested me is not the actually numbers, or percentage of my generation (the Xers) that suffer, but the reason.
Why? Why do anxiety and depression disorders, which despite appearing to be opposites are really two sides of the same coin, seem to strike harder at our generation? Surely some of it has to do with a heightened awareness and diagnosis on the part of the medical profession. God knows how many of the greatest generation suffered the same during the Great Depression and World War II, but had little but the bottle to turn to. Yet, even compared to the notorious self indulgent Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers seem to be worse off. Why is that?
I am no social researcher, nor am I a psychologist. However, I’m also not a writer, but I don’t let that prevent me from blogging, so I will venture an answer.
We are the post 60’s generation. Despite the claim that baby boomers were the first TV generation, I would argue that Generation X was the first generation to be raised saturated from birth in the media culture. This is because we are also the first generation to be born and raised after the great social edifices of commuity and family were torn down by our beloved narcisitic baby boomers. Whereas baby boomers had the Ozzie and Harriet upbringings of the classic post war nuclear family, the Generation Xers grew up in the post-nuclear family of 2 parents working, or divorced, and were latch key kids from an early age. Don’t believe me? Strike up a conversation with any 35-50 year old and ask them about their favorite post school afternoon television show. They will typically respond with their fondest memories of sitting in front of a TV at home watching one of those Ranger-Commander-Spaceman-Bob UHF shows of old cartoon interspersed with the local weatherman dressed up as a cowboy-space-ranger-clown asking us to call in to win prizes.
So I think the twin experiences of media saturation, and crumbling community/family structure explain a lot about who we are as a generation. The stable bonds of community were breaking as we grew up, while at the same time we were under constant bombardment from infancy by Madison Avenue admen seeking to manipulate our every feeling and desire in the interest of instilling the great ideology of consumerism into our hearts. The result is we are an insecure generation, that is very suspicious and cycnical towards the world around us. We are also among the most materialist of generations, although the kids behind us are challenging us for that title.
That is why we place such value in irony. It is also why we tend to use sarcasm like a vacine to protect us against allowing the world into our life and making ourselves vulnerable.
The annual UCLA survey of incoming collge freshman has tracked the growing materialism and declining community involvement of college freshman for over 40 years. The trend is clear, the only thing debateable is the cause.
For as long as I could remember growing up, there were few sacred cows in our soceity. But the ones that we had were beyond questioning. These were the following:
1.) The 1960’s were the pinnacle of everything
2.) What came before us, was always better than what has come after we arrived
3.) Salvation lies within our grasp, we just need to get out our credit card, operators are standing by!
Our very memories were pre-recorded for us, and handed to us at an early age by the baby boom generation. Hippies, Rock and Rock, War Protests, the Civil Rights Movement, etc… did not happen during our lifetimes, but we were so saturated in nostalgia for these events that we came to inherit them as if we had been there ourselves. Forget that we came of age with oil crisis, and Carter-era malaise, and Reaganomics, and the decline and fall of the cities and towns around us as our parents jobs moved south, and then overseas. And for many in our generation the break up of their very family at a young age was something they were forced to deal with, something rare among the spoiled boomer brats of the 50’s. Is it any wonder we have grown up having to innoculate ourselves with cycnicism to protect us from the hostile world around us that is always out to get something from us?
I speak from experience as one of the most cynical and sarcastic people you will ever meet. And yet I know that sarcasm is the humor of the cowardly. No sarcastic comment is ever fulfilling to the person who makes it, and to those around them, it is nothing but the glint of a dagger that you fear may someday be aimed at your own back.
We have the choice to either accept the essential lie of materialism that has been sold to us from an early age, and kill ourselves trying to live up to it. Or to admit the emptyness of the world around us and seethe with self loathing for not being able to change it. Neither option is a good one. One leads down a path of anxiety disorders as we seek to keep up with the Ken & Barbie ideal of prosperity. The other leads down a path of depression as we struggle to come to terms with the fact that we do not fit into soceity.
So we end up either on anti depressant medications, or medicating ourselves in other ways. Isn’t there a better way?
Yes there is. Like all addicts the first step on our road to recovery is to acknowledge the problem. These disorders are the result of the world around us that we did not build, but was forced upon us. A broken, and diseased culture that seeks to sell us consumerism as the ultimate drug that will cure all of our problems. Look around. It’s everywhere. It is the fruit of the boomer vine. A McMansion in the suburbs. An SUV in the garage. A vacation home up North. Toys-toys-toys galore to play with and keep us distracted. iPods, iPhones, Blackberrys, Computers, Blogs!!!! The constant buss of technology like a cicada to keep us from having to face the unknowable silence.
But the silence is where we are to be found. Deep within the silence. That is where the voice of God can also be heard. (I don’t think he Tweets, but then again, if he did I wouldn’t know it)
Turn inward lost souls, and find yourselves. Put down the Prozac, the Zoloft, the iPod, the bottle, the Blackberry, and turn off the TV. We do not need to run this pointless race to catch an ideal that is false and unsustainable anyway. Turn inward, come inside to play. You are not alone.
Repeat after me…
I was not at Woodstock
The Vietnam War meant nothing to me
I do not need a 3 car garage
I don’t care what the latest Lindsay-Brittany-reality TV star is doing
CNN and FOX News are both full of krep
Reality TV is not reality
I do not need to be on the internet
My kids do not need to be involved in every dang thing, open the door and send them outside to play
God doesn’t tweet, (or blog.)
I am OK.
Anxiety and depression only means we are paying attention
(feel free to add your own affirmations to this list)