After Hours

Welcome to the future. All Homo Extinctus please step aside.

TechRepublic member Todd Fluhr thinks that the shockwave of societal change and cultural perspective has hit us faster than in previous generations. If you haven't learned to adapt and change, you're already obsolete.

Disclosure: I am writing from an American cultural perspective and grew up before the 1980s.

Bowfinger (to his significantly younger girlfriend): Yes! We'll be just like Bogey and Bacall!

Daisy: Who?

—  "Bowfinger"

If you're over thirty, you're separated from the emerging culture and technology by a cultural divide greater than you realize. The world you grew up in has gone. Your pop-culture references are as dead as disco, and you might as well have grown up on Mars for all the good it will do when trying to Grok the current generation.

The good news is that you now live in the future. You made it. You are here.

The bad news is you can't afford it, and your entire reference point is obsolete. You are Homo Extinctus and will soon join the Neanderthal and dodo bird as oddities of history.

As the old Chinese curse goes, we live in interesting times. The last 10 to 20 years have seen profound social and technological changes. Most of us welcome these changes with open arms and open wallets. We live on an ever-expanding edge of a shockwave of revolutionary transformation. The potential and promise of new technologies are embraced with each new consumer marvel. Products are launched and enter our lives almost daily to create an inexorable tide towards a radically different tomorrow. In fact, it's already washed away our yesterday.

What was once science fiction are now everyday conveniences. In many ways, we now live in a future far beyond anything imagined before the 1980s. Stem cell and genetic research, organs grown from cells, viable skin tissue created by modified office printers, the internet, cell phone applications, computer advancements, holograms, creation of mini-black holes in the lab, energy weapons, and invisibility cloaks... the list is almost endless and growing every minute.

To anyone over 40, this will make sense. Our cell phones put the old Star Trek communicators to shame. Consider how many other "science fiction" elements of the original Trek we've surpassed - automatically opening doors, medical sensors, computers, user interfaces, the list goes on. The only things we haven't got are the tractor beams, teleportation, and warp drive... but we're working on those.

Consider this. If you were told in the 1970s that someone had created a mini-black hole in a lab or a human organ grown from stem cells, you'd challenge their sanity or at least be skeptical. Such technologies were impossible. We could hope and extrapolate what might be possible in the future, but there were limits to what technology could do.

Not so today. We live on the edge between the finite abilities of yesterday and a tomorrow of unimaginable technological achievements. If you're browsing your favorite blog de jour from your wireless device and see headlines on quantum computing, teleportation, or a new laser powerful enough to rip open space and time, you'd say, "Wow, what next?"

People born after 1990 have grown up with a maelstrom of emerging technologies, in this brave new world of possibilities, and it's created a cultural disconnect. Before 1980, in spite of educational standards, most students could read a book or watch a film set in the last hundred years without difficulty. It didn't require a great leap of culture to understand the London of Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade's investigations, or the world of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Even the modern adventures of James Bond or Steed and Misses Peel were easily accessible.

This isn't true for the younger generation. For them, reading an older book or watching an older film set requires the same perspective shift as any fantasy story or historical setting. Ultimately, the last 100 years of literature and film have been moved from modern fiction to ancient history in the span of a decade by our cultural transition into the future.

Generationally speaking, our daily lives have changed as well. Whereas today's youth is exposed to internet video, social networking, and a constant barrage of new apps and iPads, chances are you grew up with rotary or dial phones and only three channels on your TV. It's a profoundly different world. News used to be news. It was delivered through newspapers, radio, and on the television during the dinner hour. Now, new is an entertainment industry, constantly streamed 24/7 on the web or among hundreds of other television channels.

Here's a quick test. What do you think of when you read the following? Vietnam. JFK. Cold War. Bay of Pigs. Berlin Wall. Nixon. Watergate. Iranian hostages. Cher. Ollie North. Lawn darts. Eight track tape. Album. Beta. VHS. Marlboro Man. Gas prices. WKRP. These are the things of your culture if you were born in the 50s, 60s, or 70s. Imagine what kind of answers you would get from people under the age of 25.

Now, for extra points, try the following words: Bush. Clinton. MTV. New Music. Friend. Phone. Video. Google. Photoshop. Application. These are common reference points from the transitional period. How might the answers be different by someone born in the 70s and someone born after 1990?

This isn't meant as a rant on today's generation or the generation gap in general. Every generation feels a disconnect from the one before and fear of the one to come. But never before in our cultural history has technology changed so much, so fundamentally, in such a short amount of time.

Every generation forges its own identity. It's inevitable and desirable. But what are the implications for tomorrow? Is the current generation doomed to become Neanderthals in a land of iPad using Cro-Magnons? Is it even possible to integrate and evolve with the new and improved society? Or are we relics of a different time and place?

The shockwave of societal change and cultural perspective has hit us faster than in previous generations. As technology and change escalate, the faster we become irrelevant and out of date. Jerry Rubin once said to never trust anyone over 30. Logan's Run lowered that age to 21 and executed them on Carousel. Now, we're just trended by marketing demographics and marginalized by brand-name merchandise.

The world you knew is radically different from the world that is. Your point of reference is gone. If you haven't learned to adapt and change, you're already obsolete. It's time to evolve and forget everything you once thought relevant.

If you can't do that, then it's time to dust off the old VHS and watch some Max Headroom reruns.

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