Growing up in a global world

Elika Roohi/Sun Star Editor-in-Chief
April 30, 2013

A month ago, when the Supreme Court was weighing in on the Defense of Marriage Act, my Facebook feed was awash in red and pink equal signs.  Depending on the political opinions of your online friends, yours probably was to.  Surveying my newsfeed last Saturday night, I saw one errant red equal sign left.

This is the age of empirical kids, said columnist David Brooks in a recent opinion piece for the New York Times.  Online activism, a feel-good but disengaged response, is just one of many results of the world we’ve grown up in.

We’re almost sure our immediate post-grad life is going to suck, if pop culture is any indication.  Brooks says it will “probably bear a depressing resemblance to Hannah Horvath’s world on ‘Girls.'”  And Macklemore’s hit ‘Thrift Shop’?  It’s “less a fashion statement, more a looming financial reality” Brooks said.

The last decade and a half of economic instability, war and tragedy have given us front row seats to failing efforts to fix things.  We’re not as idealistic.  We don’t like the system, but we’re wary of the alternatives.  Brooks calls us empirical kids, the only thing left post-hippie, yuppie and hipster.  We have a “tendency to dismiss other more ethical and idealistic vocabularies that seem fuzzy and, therefore, unreliable,” Brooks said.

I disagree.

So do Haley Cohen and Howard Dean who wrote a response to Brooks’ piece in the Huffington Post.  Instead of calling us empirical kids, they call us first globals, as in the first generation of kids to grow up in a global world.

Yes, we don’t have as much faith in governments and other institutions to effect change.  But this disillusionment hasn’t stopped today’s youth from trying to fix it, it’s just changed the way we go about it, the Huffington Post said.

Cohen and Dean say we’re the first generation to grow up thinking about shared fate.  Those of us that spent most of our lives completely immersed in today’s interconnected world are more focused than ever on what’s happening beyond our horizons.  The New York Times piece said we’re skeptical of the change institutions can effect.  I think that’s true, but it’s not holding us back from trying to fix things ourselves.

Take, for instance, Teach for America, the non-profit organization that recruits high-achieving college graduates to teach in low income schools around the U.S.  Between 2003 and 2011, the applicant base grew from 15,000 to 48,000.  Teach for America alumni are now bringing their own solutions and skills to inner city schools.

Even online activism, misguided though I feel it is, represents the urge to change something in a positive way.

Last weekend, the SpringFest service crew had one of the higher turnouts they’ve had in years, even though the temperatures on Friday morning were hovering around 20 degrees and a good portion of the trash volunteers were trying to pick up was actually frozen to the ground.

Does this sound like a generation deadened by “data analysis” and “opportunity costs”?  Not to me.

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