Deep Thought: Nickeled and Dimed by History

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Deep Thought: Nickeled and Dimed by History

A seer thinking deeply, with  a towel on his head

When I was young (quiet in the back), half a century and more ago, people were always, always moaning about the 'youth'. The youth were rebellious: their hair looked awful. They had outrageous ideas. They wanted to change everything. For our part, we got along a lot better with our grandparents than our parents: our grandparents, after all, had been jazz babies. They liked to upset the applecart in their day, too. Our parents were more into conformity. After all, conformity had brought them rich rewards.

As a teenager, I often read 'wise' newspaper columns where some lazy columnist dug up that old chestnut about how in ancient Athens, in the time of Socrates, somebody wrote a scathing complaint about 'the youth of today'. The 'wise' columnist was there to tell us that this sort of thing always happened, in every generation since Noah was a pup. Nothing to be alarmed about, he (usually he) would say: the universe is working as intended. Pah. Not true.

See, I know something that columnist didn't bother to find out. Historical developments come in two flavours: periods without rapid change, and periods with rapid change. Guess which kind cause generational conflict?

There have been long stretches of human history, at least in some places, where there hasn't been much in the way of change: no big political upheavals (the king stayed on the throne, the republic chugged along), no massive climate events (it was still cold because it was the Ice Age, or whatever), and no big technological breakthroughs happened (Farmer Brown figured out a better plough hitch, and then everybody copied him). In times like that, you've got no big generational problems. The young folk want to grow up to be just like mom and dad, most of the time. What else is there? Older folk are appreciated for what they can teach. No biggie.

Then change comes, and suddenly mom and dad don't know everything. They've never seen a three-masted sailing ship before. Or they can't handle the instructions to the DVR. In times of great change, it's a bigger advantage to be flexible than to be traditional. And if my friends who came of age in the Sixties can't remember that, they're going to look pretty silly. Because I remember The Church of What's Happenin' Now, and all of the foolishness they got up to when they 'tuned in, turned on, and dropped out.' Only to drop back in, most of them, and sheepishly go about pretending they weren't those long-haired kids in the photographs.

There's a by-now old joke going around where a millennial boasts, 'In your day, grandpa, they didn't have mobile phones, or personal computers, or iPads, or DVDs…' And grandpa replies, 'That's right. That's why we invented them.'

Now, nobody wants to do the dozens here about who did what, where, when. That's silly. We're all God's chillun and got a place in the choir, no matter where we're situated on the timeline. I'm after noticing something else: when we get a lot of quick change, our cultural baggage shifts faster than the Enterprise at Warp 9. That's okay, but sometimes, that change will nickel-and-dime you to death.

Take that expression 'nickel-and-dime you to death'. Half of you don't know what the heck I'm talking about. For some, it's because you have no idea what a nickel is. (It's a five-cent piece. A dime is ten cents.) That makes sense: h2g2 is planetary. Why should you know what coins I have in my US pocket? For others, who might happen to be Americans, but younger, that expression, if you've heard it at all, may be hopelessly out-of-date. That's what I'm talking about. It can be tiresome, glossing all this.

Lately, I've been watching a streaming video series called The Boys. Tavaron, who is a fellow sci-fi fan, but much, much younger than I am, said she thought she'd give it a miss. I agreed that all that CGI violence can be a bit much. I'm really watching it, not because I like superheroes (I don't), but in order to keep up with trends in pop culture and thought. Things change fast. Writers need to keep up. (Even old writers.)

I noticed two things: one, the helpful Amazon 'notes' on the sidebar of my computer screen tend to gloss historical and cultural references that I know very well. However, they don't explain the things I'm not so familiar with. For instance, I could not have told you the names of the Spice Girls. But sure, I knew what Billy Joel album they were 'referencing'. Which I still insist should be 'referring to'. (I think 'referencing' is something different and technical.)

The other thing I noticed was that these witty, savvy writers keep writing dialogue that misuses old expressions. Like 'cut and run'. Instead, they said 'cut bait and run'. That's not a thing. There are two expressions. One is 'cut and run', meaning to chicken out and run away in a panic. The other is 'fish or cut bait', which means 'put up or shut up'. They mixed the two up – twice. So I'm assuming nobody knows what that means anymore. No criticism, just an observation. Expressions get old and fade away, that's normal. But I notice these things.

The technology shift in the last few decades – yes, the technology shift the nerds of my generation set in motion – has accelerated change. Just as the First World War did. Just as the Second World War did. Just as, heck, the invention of the printing press did, or advances in shipbuilding, or the bull-tongued plough… Change happens.

Here's what I think we should do: stay awake, if you can't stay 'woke'. Talk to each other, especially generationally. The past can speak to the future in the present. It's like it's the day Continental Drift starts, and some of us are standing on South America and others on Australia. As they begin to move apart, let's keep shouting messages at each other. That's not too hard to do.

After all, we've got the internet.

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Dmitri Gheorgheni

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