Raphie Frank :: business artivist

All Alone is All We Will One Day Once Have Been: A Generation X Response to Thomas Friedman’s “Generation Q”

Jace Cavacini
The Lonely Puppet by Jace Cavacini (Highly Functioning Autistic: Asperger’s Syndrome)

excerpt
At least one of the anthems of my generation is “All Apologies” by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana fame. The refrain which repeats over and over again in the collective mind of our generation is “All alone is all we are. All alone is all we are…”

My dream is that in the not so distant future, we will be able to update that riff by giving it a happier, more hopeful ending. To do that, however, is going to take a little work, and a little working together in a process I call “social cogeneration,” because only by working together will we be able to stand together and tell the world:

No, Kurt got it wrong. All alone is all we will one day once have been.
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All Alone is All We Will One Day Once Have Been
A Generation X Response to Thomas Friedman’s “Generation Q”

As a leading edge member of Generation X, a generation I affectionately refer to as the generation trapped between idealism and despair, told by our parents we could do anything we dreamed of doing, then told “no” every time we tried, I feel uniquely qualified to comment on Thomas Friedman’s October 10, 2007 column, Generation Q, in which he termed the current crop of college students the “Quiet Generation.”

It’s not so much that Mr. Friedman got it “wrong,” but that he could have gotten it more right. The younger generation — also known to marketers and within popular culture as “Generation Y,” denoting those born between 1981 and 1995 — is indeed quiet now, but this does not mean they will be quiet later because they are also very much the “Quick” Generation, brought up in the age of Information Explosion, Internet learning by association and Social Software.

Fractal, “object oriented,” relational thinkers in the mold of noted technologist Ray Kurzweil, a self-described “patternist,” they “get” things, intuitively, in a Malcolm Gladwell “Blink” of an eye, even before they have language by which to frame those thoughts and, sadly, one of the lessons they have learned, perhaps a bit too fast, is that nobody is listening.

In my view, many members of Generation Q are not so much “quiet” as frustrated and, possibly, even a bit depressed.

I don’t know this in theory, but in practice, in anecdotal, but all too tangible, form, because for the better part of the past three years I have spent thousands of hours interviewing and talking to and corresponding with, not just members of Gen Q, but with people of all ages, across all economic and geographical and race divides.

I communicate with these people here in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and on the streets of Manhattan, and on social software sites such as Flickr and Friendster, real life “participatory action research” by an aspiring professional human being who has made more than his fair share of mistakes. I tell these people stories — mostly in private, but also sometimes in public — stories about being a bit too “different,” about being a right-handed, right-brained thinker trying to follow a path with heart in a left brained world and not wanting anyone to know because I know what happens to those who dare to dream with the heart of a ten year old child…

They get trampled.

So I tell them my stories, and they tell me theirs back. They tell me what they think and dream and feel, honestly, without self-censorship, if only because they are so surprised to talk to someone, or, for the older ones, someone else, over the age of thirty who has a “clue,” which I must confess I might wonder also if I were them because the deafening quietude is not just them, but all of us.

“Why bother?” I hear over and over and over again. “No one cares. It’s all about the money.” And, again, who can blame them? Make no mistake, the “Quick” Generation is on the ball like a jack-a-bunny on steroids, and they are learning far, far more from the words we don’t say and the actions we don’t perform than from the ones we do.

The irony to me is that there are so many of them out there and no one seems to know it. They are a hidden population, hidden even from themselves because, indeed, as Mr. Friedman suggests, these quick ones are quiet, far too quiet, for their own good. All that combined energy, woven together in a wondrous and diverse tapestry of their collective aspirations and hopes and dreams, is pent up, or perhaps “rolled up” with nowhere to go, no constructive means of expression, and no Dylanizable “direction known.”

And that, to me, seems not such a good thing.

One 1960’s was enough. All that destruction, fear and division should have taught us a thing or two, firstly and firstly, that we’ve got to do it better this time. We can’t expect the kids to do it all on their own, nor can mass protest alone, I would suggest, achieve the social change Mr. Friedman desires in an age when our civil liberties have been so severely compromised that requests for Central Park permits are denied to “Save the Grass” and bicycle riders in New York City are caught like fish in nets, quite literally, when they try to assert their right to peaceful protest, as was the case during the Republican National Convention.

Change happens one person, one voice, one idea and at a time. And we, their elders, the safekeepers of a future they will inherit, need to think about giving them a means by which to be heard, even online, should they answer Mr. Friedman’s stirring call to action, as did my young cousin, Shelby Backman. Shelby defended the honor of our grandfather Jules Backman, a Professor of Economics at NYU for 45 years after he was attacked by an anonymous commenter on the blog of the Octogenarian, Mort Reichek, a retired journalist who writes of love and loss and hope in times of war in moving first person narrative. Shelby told that anonymous commenter off but good, and I am proud as heck of her, even if she didn’t get the tone quite right in my opinion.

But that’s the point. These kids are yet works in progress as a generation and as individuals, like so many Michaelangeloed stones from which the sculpture has yet to emerge. We can help them sculpt those stones, not by sculpting the stones for them, but by giving them the tools and resources they need to sculpt those stones themselves.

I am convinced that Gen Q’ers, many of them, at least, want to do the right thing, whatever that right thing may be in their own personal rooms with a view, but they don’t know how. Not yet. We need to teach them how, and we have to teach them in a way that means something to them, by showing them how with our deeds, not telling them how with our words.

And we need to start telling them stories that matter, not just on blogs, but in the mainstream media, stories about every day people working hard to improve not just their own lives, but the lives of those around them; stories about people like New Yorker, Leslie Hawke, who joined the Peace Corp at 48 and went to Eastern Europe to fight the good fight as a Roma (“Gypsy”) advocate in Romania, or Romanian Ana Crisan, who went to Toronto as a child and fights with her camera and against her own fear to awaken people to the injustices facing the homeless not just in her own community, but everywhere.

We also need to start teaching by listening to the members of Gen Q when they try to speak, and by trying harder to understand them when we don’t, instead of assuming they don’t know what they are talking about, because believe me, these kids know far more than you may think they do. First and foremost, they know the real meaning of the Q in Generation Q in the form of a phrase well known to each and every member of my own all too silent generation, Generation X:

SILENCE = DEATH

Which brings us back full circle. At least one of the anthems of my generation is “All Apologies” by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana fame. The refrain which repeats over and over again in the collective mind of our generation is “All alone is all we are. All alone is all we are…”

My dream is that in the not so distant future, we will be able to update that riff by giving it a happier, more hopeful ending. To do that, however, is going to take a little work, and a little working together in a process I call “social cogeneration,” because only by working together will we be able to stand together and tell the world:

No, Kurt got it wrong. All alone is all we will one day once have been.

About the author
Raphie Frank is a writer, producer, designer, photographer and union film lighting technician with 20 years of experience in community-building and collaborative settings. Son to former Princeton Professor of Economics, Charles R. Frank, Jr. and grandson to Jules Backman (dec. 1982), Research Professor of Economics Emeritus at NYU’s Stern Business School, Raphie is currently on extended sabbatical from the “professional” working world and is a blogosphere journalist and social entrepreneur planning a return to Graduate School in the field of Sociology to study “Social Cogeneration.” He was born September 4th, 1967 on Labor Day during the Summer of Love. Website: https://raphie.wordpress.com

BACKGROUND LINKS

Interview with Leslie Hawke
One of My Heroes :: Ana Crisan
When Alan Greenspan & I Studied Economics Together

Raphie Frank
Business Artivist Blog https://raphie.wordpress.com
Portfolio Website http://www.raphie.com
917-202-2610

December 12, 2007 - Posted by | Art, Non-Partisan Activism, Philosophy, Sociology | , , , , , ,

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