I've been ruminating about the book Generation Me by Jean Twenge, which I finished reading yesterday. The book is an exploration of the "iGen" or GenMe--the generation that follows the Boomers, so basically people born from, roughly, 1970 to 2000ish. The author makes the case that even though a generation typically describes a group of people born within a 20-year span, the generation following the Baby Boomers encompasses a wider span of time due to personality and make-up. I could write several posts on this book. She describes the culture and personality of the generation from the standpoints of: economy, material goods, sex, attitudes on race and gender, and many other aspects that typify people born in this generation. I am, by the way, sort of a fence-sitter. I was born in 1969. My oldest brother is a Boomer, but I see myself in a lot of the attitudes that Twenge ascribes to the GenMe group.
Tonight, though, I'd like to reflect a little bit on social and personal connections. GenMe'ers (or iGen'ers) are, not surprisingly, described as isolated and cut off from others due to our focus on the self. This is, Twenge strongly argues, due to the self-esteem education we received in the '70s and '80s ("you can be anything you want to be!"). We focus on ourselves, we believe in our dreams, we want what we want when we want it. But--Twenge warns--do not call GenMe'ers spoiled; after all, isn't this what we've been taught all our lives? That we're special? Unique? No one is like us? We deserve to have it all?
This enchantment with the self, along with advances in technology (I can set my iPod to my personal selection of music and shut out the world; I can Tivo my show and watch it whenever it's convenient for me, etc.), has, at least in part, cut us off from other people.
Wait a minute! I hear you say, what about email and the internet and texting and cell phones? Don't they connect us more?
Well, that could be true. But Twenge did her homework. Today's generation feels more isolated, cut off, lonely, and depressed than any other. It is counterintuitive, but true, if we can trust her studies.
So even while all of these thoughts ruminating around my brain, I've had some interesting experiences this summer. I helped my parents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in June. At the party, I saw lots of familiar faces from my childhood--the parents of my brothers' friends, my piano teacher, family friends, friends from church...so many wonderful people.
I had a wonderful chat with Don and Lucy, the parents of my best friend in high school, Lori, who, unfortunately, could not make it to the party. But it was great visiting with her parents. Lucy said she'd been thinking about it and decided that I'd have never married my husband Scott if it wouldn't have been for Lori's grandfather. This seems like a strange deduction to make on the surface of it. My story is not all that unique: I went off to college, met a guy, and married him. Not all that unusual, right? Well, here's the thing.
Lori's family is Lutheran, and Lori went to a small Lutheran college in Ann Arbor, Michigan after we graduated from high school. I went the opposite direction, to Seattle Pacific Univ. But because of Lori's influence on me and our exploration of our faith together, I decided my freshman year of college to join the Lutheran church. That, then, led me to decide to become a Lutheran teacher, which led me to transfer to Concordia College in Ann Arbor, with Lori, which is where I met my husband, who later became a Lutheran pastor, etc. etc.
Lucy pointed out, though, that it was actually due to her father who insisted that all of his kids be educated in Lutheran schools which then influenced his family to remain Lutheran, and perhaps that influenced Lori to attend a Lutheran school. I then, being a new Lutheran, decided I'd go to the same Lutheran school Lori did...
The story gets a little long (and maybe boring), but after she described all of the connections, I had to agree: I would not be married to Scott if it weren't for Lori's grandfather.
And that is a little bit amazing to think about.
I mean, how is it that our lives collide and bump against each other, and we influence each other every day--even in ways we may not realize? Did Lori's grandfather sit in his rocking chair thinking about how his Lutheran beliefs would affect his granddaughter's friend and her husband? I doubt it.
But these are the sorts of connections that all of us have--and we may not even realize it. We think we're floating around alone in the world, and then someone like Lucy says, "well, you know, your life wouldn't have happened if it weren't for..." Sometimes life does feel lonely, but maybe we feel lonely because we've isolated ourselves behind our iPods and laptops. I'm not making judgements--I love the new technology as much as anyone else. But I wonder if it's that personal element, that person-to-person contact that we need more of, and my parents' anniversary party helped me realize that.
So do something social this week. Go to a restaurant with friends. Gather around a bonfire. Phone your childhood pal; even better, go for a visit. You're probably more connected to the people around you than you realize.