In recent weeks, I've had a lot of interaction with younger Americans. And while every generation has a uniqueness (good and bad) that divides it from the previous one, I believe there has been a paradigm shift in one fundamental: younger Americans prefer exhibitionism to privacy.
I had no idea how far this had gone until I sat in a friend's living room and watched what passes for entertaining television. Reality show after reality show consisted of little more than people willing to parade their entire lives before a camera. Yet I couldn't decide which was worse: the exhibitionists themselves, apparently more than willing to come off as clueless, petty and boring or the kids who watch them.
No doubt many of the watchers are convinced that they, too, could have their own show. And why shouldn't they be? If being outrageous in some manner simply for the sake of it absent a lick of genuine talent is all you need for a career before the camera, whose to say such dreams are unrealistic?
The new rule to live by? Better to be infamous than anonymous.
Why now? Technology. "Everyone" has a Myspace page, a Twitter account, videos on YouTube, and a cell phone with picture-taking and internet posting abilities. Everyone tweets and texts about everything, no matter how mundane. For far too many young Americans, cyberspace and reality have become one: a person's "online identity" is equally, or perhaps even more important, than who they are in real life.
Education is a major contributor as well. When promoting self-esteem to engender achievement instead of the other way around became the Holy Grail of the public school system, it was only a matter or time before the self-aggrandizing chickens came home to roost. Ego-driven cluelessness is no longer the socially ostracizing mechanism it once was. In fact, if the aforementioned reality shows are any indication, it is a virtue.
In other words, stupid sells as any fan of Paris Hilton or any number of other vapid, no-talent "celebrities" can attest.
Unfortunately, a lot of these young Americans vote. Any far too many of them are people who haven't the slightest idea, not just about the critical issues currently facing the country, but about the country itself. They know next to nothing about the Constitution, the structure of government or the rule of law. They know they have "rights," but they have no idea how they got them, or who paid for them with blood and treasure. It's truly eye-opening to sit with a 26-year-old woman, one who is by no means unintelligent, and realize the depth of her ignorance. As I know her fairly well, I was not constrained by diplomacy. I told her something that I could say to entire generation of young Americans:
You don't know what you don't know.
Even worse, you don't care. The Distracted Generation is far too busy chasing fame and fortune. A recent survey revealed the career ambitions of today's youth compared to those of twenty-five years ago. The top three choices back then: 1. teacher; 2. banking/finance; 3. medicine.
Today? 1. Sports star; 2. pop star; 3. actor/actress.
Now, there is nothing wrong with "reaching for the moon" as it were. But at some point, reality must bite. Are you good enough to play a sport at a professional level? Can you actually sing and command a stage, or play a part so well people will spend money to see you? Do you have the drive, the talent, the ambition, the patience and the ability to deal with rejection and failure in order to get where you want to go?
Perhaps it no longer matters. When "fame" can be achieved by posting something outrageous enough on YouTube that it garners millions of "hits," hope undoubtedly springs eternal. When the entertainment industry enshrines the dark side of the human condition foul language, overt sexuality, gangsta-ism, misogyny, stupidity, etc. who's to say some foul-mouthed, know-nothing punk won't be the "next great thing?"
The desire for privacy? For a lot of the younger generation, a celebrity-impeding "character flaw."
Ominously, such a mindset is tailor-made for a political class more than willing to pry into our personal affairs at an historically unprecedented level. One has to wonder if George Orwell's "1984," a world of constant government monitoring, even bothers a generation addicted to techno-exhibitionism. Perhaps they'd even embrace the omnipresent telescreens of that world as long as they could use one to order a pizza.
One thing is certain: we know very little about the long-term consequences of mass exhibitionism. I have no idea what happens when privacy or more accurately, the desire for privacy becomes an anachronism. But I do know that without privacy there is no freedom. There is only a collectivist caterwauling of completing claims on celebrity. Sadly, that just might be a trade-off today's generation of Americans is willing to make: better to be a pseudo-celebrity in a totalitarian nation, than an anonymous nobody in a free one.
I hope not. But I wouldn't bet a nickel against it.
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