Every generation has its stereotype- the industrious gentleman of the 1910s, the degenerate flapper of the ‘20s, the family-centered husband of the ‘50s, the free-love hippies of the ‘60s, and so on.
The layman historian naturally embraces such distillations because it makes his job that much easier, and we naturally sympathize with his generalities because it makes for easy conversation pieces. The problem is that stereotypes skew or at least introduce biases into our perception of what life really was like ‘back then.’ Not everything in the 1920s roared, and not everyone in the Middle Ages was religious.
We cast a backwards glance with blithe detachment. Partly because in them we don’t see the most recent moral tumble of Jack and Jill which our generation has experienced. Partly because life seemed simpler then. There was rational consensus, unified theories, continual progress, and general optimism.
Defining Our Generation
What is the characteristic stereotype that will be applied to this generation 50 years from now? It’s hard to pin one down. The techies? The global warmers? The financial flakes? The wi-fis?
With continuous news coverage, instant internet access to information, ubiquitous connections to friends, tweets, and status updates, it’s difficult to view our day as a linear progression. Our daily planner no longer operates in Euclidean space. Time really does seem to bend when encountering Facebook or an iPhone- two ponderous spatial objects for any teenager.
One effect of this plurality is relativity, aka any stance you take on an issue will inevitably be considered unkind, not PC, or ignorant by the ever present world audience. Who’s to say how you see the situation is right? Aren’t you just being shaped by your cultural frame of reference? To say the world is more connected than ever is an understatement. The availability of information has given us so many different ways to understand issues. There are layers of complexity and contradiction. The definiteness of any world outlook seems shaky.
Postmodernism is in full swing.
Postmodernism holds realities to be plural and relative, and dependent on who the interested parties are and what their interests consist of. It upholds the belief that there is no absolute truth and the way in which different people perceive the world is subjective.
-Postmodernism article, Wikipedia
The initial impetus of postmodernism really came with Hermann Minkowski and Albert Einstein’s conception of a four-dimensional space-time continuum. What began in theoretical physics was soon picked up by the cubist and futurist painters. Cubism challenged the long-standing tradition of Renaissance perspective that viewed objects in three dimensions from a fixed vantage. Cubism dissects an object and sees it simultaneously from all sides. The fractured planes were emotionally charged- advancing, retreating, interpenetrating, hovering. The basic tenet of this new conception captures the gist of postmodern life- simultaneity and movement.
Technology and Postmodernism
Technology pulls us in multiple directions at the same time. We experience the same fractured simultaneity of the Cubist paintings. We may be riding the bus, intermittently chatting with a fellow commuter, posting news of our latest annoyance on Facebook, receiving texts from an out of town friend, all the while listening with one ear to the latest soundtrack of our life.
We rarely experience life in the short-sentenced simplicity that Ernest Hemingway described.
I was noticing how many people on the bus the other day were carrying their smart phone in their hand. Not an uncommon sight. But it dawned on me that they were expecting to be interrupted. When you welcome it though, it’s not interruption anymore.
If art is a reflection of the current situation then maybe this generation’s stereotype is fractured, ambiguous, up for interpretation, no clear direction.