Sunday 26 May 2019

Don't shoot me down, but us noughties kids are in no man's land

Millennials had a far more wholesome childhood than my generation, which has been consigned to perpetual anxiety, writes Joe Corcoran

Barring another 9/11-style game changer, I'd expect that toddler to grow up on a surer footing than my generation did.
Barring another 9/11-style game changer, I'd expect that toddler to grow up on a surer footing than my generation did.

The publication of new data last week suggesting that millennial purchasing power will outstrip Generation X's by 2020 has provided me with occasion to reflect a little bit on the peculiarly anxious condition of those of us born right on their heels, at the precipice of the 21st Century. The plight of the noughties child, as it were.

It is an anxiousness born, I believe, out of a stark severing of ties with the century we were just departing. A severing which came quite literally out of the clear blue sky, at a time when our collective cognitive capacities were only in their nascent stages of development.

I for one was in what must have been my second week of junior infants when American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 were flown into the walls of the World Trade Centre in New York. Of the event itself I recall nothing. Of the wars that followed I remember only my five-year-old self cautiously declining to condemn Saddam Hussein out loud, for fear that, like any good super-villain, he had secretly placed surveillance cameras on every person in the world, and would exact some terrible revenge against me if I ever gave him cause to take offence at my words.

By then the course for my generation had been set. The deadliest act of war to occur on the soil of a developed Western nation since the days of Hitler and Stalin had come off without a hitch, at the hands of a shadowy cabal of vampires, representative not of any one nation, but of a fluid, borderless idea about which we knew next to nothing.

It was an enemy we had no clue how to defend ourselves against. All we were certain of was that the sheer extent of the mess it created demanded a mass spinning of wheels in every discernible direction.

The machinations behind this process occurred at a level so far over my generation's heads, mind you, that we could never have hoped to interpret them as such. Rather it is the case that they set the context for how in the future we would interpret anything at all.

We hear today reports suggesting that levels of stress and depression among young people are trending at an 80-year high. Perhaps this has partly to do with the fact that the first world said young people got a glimpse of was one madly scrambling to pick up the pieces of whatever had been there before. Pieces that, lest we forget, would have to be picked up all over again after the crash of 2008 and even now potentially for a third time depending on how all this populist stuff shakes out.

The childhood world of the millennials, with all their newfound purchasing power, was something far more wholesome. The nineties kids got the celebratory chapter at the end of a 50-year Cold War story. We were thrown a whole new book, written in a language no one could teach us to read. This is probably why we have awkwardly inherited so much of the millennials' cultural nostalgia. Under the circumstances, there simply wasn't much opportunity to cultivate any of our own. A few forgettable blockbusters and a woeful escalation of the so-called loudness war in popular music was our answer to the vital, parent-shocking visuals of the 1990s-era indie-film renaissance and the early hip-hop and grunge music our predecessors got to enjoy first hand.

In fact, sad though it is to say, the reality television phenomenon, from whose gaudy womb emerged the current leader of the free world, is just about the only unique cultural product I can confidently claim for us noughties kids, and even this found its tentative beginning with those who came just before.

The no man's land that we seem to occupy cuts both ways as well. Though it is commonly misremembered, we were not quite the generation who plunged online before we had learned to tie our shoes. I remember the wonderful screeching of dial-up internet as well as anyone in their thirties, and I'm sure I'm just as amazed as them whenever I meet a toddler who's handier than me with an iPhone.

Barring another 9/11-style game changer, I'd expect that toddler to grow up on a surer footing than my generation did. If for no other reason than because we're better adjusted to the chaos of the modern era now that we've been living in it for close to 20 years. The scars of that adjustment run deeper than we tend to openly recognise, however. Even if I should make it to the 22nd Century, I doubt the day will come when I can step onto an aeroplane without my heart rate rising ever so slightly.

Sunday Independent

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