Tag Archives: New York Times

(ON TOPIC) Goodbye America, Hello…Somewhere Else

Part 1: Dear Generation Me…

Do people live in circles today? No. They live in boxes. They wake up every morning in the box of their bedroom because a box next to them started making beeping noises to tell them it was time to get up. They eat their breakfast out of a box and then they throw that box away into another box. Then they leave the box where they live and get into a box with wheels and drive to work, which is just another big box broken up into lots of little cubicle boxes where a bunch of people spend their days sitting and staring at the computer boxes in front of them. When the day is over, everyone gets into the box with wheels again and goes home to their house boxes and spends the evening staring at the television boxes for entertainment. They get their music from a box, they get their food from a box, they keep their clothing in a box, they live their lives in a box! Does that sound like anyone you know?

-Eustace Conway

Dear Generation Me,

What’s the ethos of our age?

Christy Wampole says it’s irony, i.e., the hipster. I say it’s irony with a little bit of a technology-induced self-indulgence on the side—that I feel crippled by the ostensibly endless array of choices in front of me right now kinda feeling.

We, those anxious young twentysomethings, know that kinda feeling well.

You know us. In addition to Wampole’s article, The New York Times devoted a whole feature to us first globals who are increasingly seeking career opportunities abroad. Lena Dunham put them on primetime TV with HBO’s Girls. They’re also walking around in that thing called the real world—those recent college graduates, confused, innocently forlorn, and buried in student loans.

In my life, more and more people seem to be subsequently packing their bags for places like Spain and Thailand and China. Do I get a job, or travel the world, or both? is an increasingly normal question for us to ask ourselves and our bank accounts. I can understand the urge to travel, so my question isn’t, Why is everybody leaving? I think it’s more, What is everyone escaping from?

Party talk (read: half-drunken drivel) tells me it’s our culture. Someone I met recently at a holiday gathering launched into a speech about how he wished he was a part of Generation X, that post-WWII diverse generation united in a combat for change. “Music. Not that digitally manipulated CRAP coming from our iPhones,” he said. Grunge, hip hop, and rock with a political influence. While I appreciated his wild hand gestures, he lost me a bit because I’m not entirely sure you can be nostalgic for times of which you were never a part. (And what about the assassination of JFK and the Chernobyl disaster and Watergate, dude?! Gen X-ers may have had some great music, but I don’t think it totally defined the times.) Are times so bad that we’re being forced to long for a time we never knew, e.g. the hipster who raids the nearest thrift store to find a vintage tee from a bygone era?

But enough about them—let’s talk about us. (We love talking about us!) We’re a part of Generation Y. Or, more aptly name, Generation Me. We’re a more narcissistic generation, totally self-involved and lost in screens—TV, computer, iPhone. We text, and we blog, too, because we have lots of feelings and want to share them with the world! We’re irreligious and ironic. We also have more and more opportunities abroad at our disposal. I’ve seen friends and family leave the country as a walking outline, anxious to be colored in by some other culture somewhere else, and then return with feelings of confidence and reassurance. And sometimes superiority. This is the part of our story that I’m interested in.

Is culture failing us, and, if so, is travel the new Holy Grail to self-improvement?

Stay tuned. I’ll write back soon.

I swear I wear my Justin Bieber tee unironically (I think),



Part 2: My Cousin Who Travels the World (And Why She’s a Voice of a Generation)

This is Allyn. She's my cousin. Allyn likes to travel. A lot.

This is Allyn. She’s my cousin, and she probably travels more than you do.


(ON TOPIC) TED Talks (and What They’ve Got Me Thinking About the World We Live In)

It’s my ever-strengthening belief that college students should quit school and instead carry out their own educational curriculum centered upon TED Talks. Seriously.

Founded in 1984, TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas from the worlds of technology, entertainment, and design. Watching the videos for yourself will be far more entertaining than simply reading about them, so instead I want to write about what the TED Talks I’ve seen over the past year have taught me.

One memorable talk featured New York Times columnist David Brooks in a discussion on “new humanism” and the impulsive decisions we make as social animals. During the week I watched this particular talk, I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, in which he addresses the very idea of impulsive decision making—or “thin-slicing”—noting a case in which Hollywood producer Brian Grazer casted Tom Hanks in Splash off a gut feeling. Incidentally, I was also working on a Hollywood movie produced by Brian Grazer while reading Blink and watching David Brooks’ TED Talk. Everything came full circle, and, in this moment, I believed how incredibly connected everyone and everything is.

A few days later I watched MIT researcher Deb Roy talk about early infant speech and language acquisition. This got me thinking about how “I” is the most used word, which—in light of my thoughts on the Brooks talk—is ironic considering how connected our world is. This isn’t entirely surprising considering we’re all the centers of our own universes, but it led me to an idea that stuck with me as I continued to watch more TED Talks and to formulate this post about what TED has taught me. And so, what TED has taught me is the following:

We don’t fully understand human nature. We just don’t.

At the core of our issues—social, political, cultural—is a failure to connect, to truly communicate. There are myriad examples to prove how we seem to totally get material things, but I’m struggling to find evidence that we grasp the emotional life behind it all.

In the social sphere, I observed this failure every morning when living in Manhattan and relying on the subway to get around. I always remember wondering how many people were actually going somewhere they wanted to go. Here, thin-slicing illuminated every slouch, sigh, and glare, but also the less frequent smile and “Thank you” when someone offered someone else their seat. But I wish the latter wasn’t so surprising to me. I hate when I hold the door for someone and I get a confused look in return, as if the person is saying, “What the heck are you doing? Are you trying to be…kind?”

Let’s get political. Brooks cites several wars as evidence of America’s failure to acknowledge the importance of viewing rationality as inextricably linked to emotional decision-making. When the Soviet Union fell, for one, economists remained blind to the void of social trust as federal political structures disintegrated. Similarly, throughout the war with Iraq, our leaders seem to have been unprepared to address the cultural complexities in the shadow of 9/11. Brooks also discusses how we’ve attempted to restructure our educational system over the past 30 years, resorting to smaller schools and charters without hitting the core issue: the relationship between a teacher and a student.

So why do we suck at communicating? It’s easy to target Technology as the culprit. But here lies more irony, as technology enabling communication simultaneously seems to hinder it. I think the issue here is that, in short, technology seems to only move in one direction: Forward. The second we wrap our paws around a new Apple product, they’re already unveiling the next smaller and faster product from their proverbial belts.

I see this demonstrated clearly when looking at trends in movies and TV. The 1950s saw the rise of TV and subsequently spectacles like 3-D and Smell-O-Vision. Today, we choose reality TV over cinema verite because, not unlike the aforementioned spectacles, it’s easy, quick, and accessible. As a result, things like pay-per-view and DVDs get added to our nation’s growing piles of stuff not made available quick enough to iPhone and other smartphone users. They become rejects, tucked away even before they’ve had a chance to leave a mark behind. As things change, they also stay the same.

I always hate talking about problems without giving solutions, but I’m unsure if I’m able to offer remedies to a gap in our nation’s consciousness as a little 22-year-old. An article in the New York Times this week, however, illuminates one solution in a new process being used in medical school applications. It’s called multiple mini interview, or “M.M.I.,” which tests applicant’s social skills in a speed dating-like interview. Good communication is critical in the health care system, so what better way to achieve this than by filling the system with good communicators. Easy, eh?

I’ll conclude by once again citing Malcolm Gladwell, because he is a very smart dude and knows lots and lots of things. In Blink, Gladwell discusses the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE), which involves psychology research on differences in cultural sensitivities. For example, while East Asians are more attentive to context in light of their interdependent relationships, Americans remain more individualistic and independent.

With that in mind, I encourage you to unplug yourself from technology, look up every now and again, and connect. While we’re all the center of our own universes, interdependent creatures functioning through the relationships we have with others. Conscious gravitation toward the easy and material needs to be replaced by a greater awareness of the power of the unconscious. Then, and only then, will people be able to connect with one another on a deeper, more meaningful level and to truly be able to feel things.

Now go watch Roger Ebert’s TED Talk and cry.