Brendan O’Connor

Thursday 31 July 2014

I worry nobody spends any time reflecting any more

BRENDAN O'CONNOR

Published 20/10/2013|02:10

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YOU tend not to have heroes anymore at my age. What you possibly do have is people who you feel would not be a disappointment if you were to meet them. Nicky Wire from the Manic Street Preachers would be one such person for me.

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I have always enjoyed how this lad from the Welsh Valleys defied stereotyping. I remember he went through a phase where hoovering was one of his favourite pastimes. For years, he has played music that is sometimes delicate and disturbed, often to fist-thumping UK fratboys, sometimes while wearing a dress, but always at least in a feather boa and eyeliner. And meanwhile he tweets with passion about the rugby.

He has also provided a model for ageing gracefully, for my generation. From an angry but literate young punk, he has grown into a gracious and charming but scathing elder statesman of UK music and popular culture in general. And he is prone to admitting that he thinks it's all rubbish now, the music and that.

You could say he is just being an out-of-touch grumpy old man, but I suppose I share that demographic, so I agree with him. I heard him say unapologetically in an interview recently that he thinks that no generation beyond our one has any proper feelings anymore. And I was glad someone said it.

In my crankiest moments, I worry that the kids now spend all their time wittering on to each other about nothing, that the form of communication has taken over from substance. I worry that nobody young ever spends any time reflecting any more, instead being always on. I worry that none of them goes back to the well, to do something like read a novel or read up on a particular issue and think about it before commenting about it. They just comment now. Get stuck in and say something is the new way. And get there first. If you stop to reflect, you lose. Being first is everything now. So get out there and onto the record.

I'm glad I'm not a young person now, and I'm glad my kids aren't yet. Hopefully, by the time they have come of age into the cultural and philosophical wars, things will have swung back the other way. I saw one of those internet trend predictors recently say we are entering the age of 'unfollowing'. He predicted that people are going to start whittling down their connections and their sources of information, to focus on fewer, but more meaningful, sources of information. If that continues, ultimately the young people might start even reading books again.

Porn is hopefully a long way off for my two kids. For now, their online endeavours are heartbreakingly innocent. You should see the excitement over a 69c app you might promise as a treat. Even better is the precious peace it buys you as they diligently decorate online cakes and biscuits for you.

Their time will come, no doubt, but right now I can envelop them completely and protect them from the real world, and instead we can all live in a world of wonderful innocence.

When they do start to move out of my control, I hope I won't know too much about it. My main worry is the erosion of meaning and intimacy and real connection in favour of meaningless constant connection to strangers. Ideally, by then the world will have swung back to reality, intimacy and real connections.

Then again, my parents had to watch me have loads of short-lived relationships that surely hindered my ability to know what to do or how to progress after the initial 18-month buzz of a relationship calmed down. That must have seemed like a huge erosion of intimacy to them, compared to what their generation got up to. I will presumably feel that relationships are further devalued for my kids' generation. And it will no doubt make me sad, and will be the source of big wars in our house.

But in the meantime what can you do except keep them innocent for as long as possible, enjoy it and try and instill values in them that might keep them grounded in reality, that might lead them to seek real intimacy and real relationships. As long as they know nothing about my life before they were born we should be OK. And now, if you don't mind, I'm going to park thinking about that for 20 years.

Sunday Independent

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