It used to be, long ago, that there was a VERY narrow range of people from who you learned what being adult meant. Your parents. Teachers. Trusted family friends. Religious leaders. People of note in your town. Employers.
And all of those examples of adulthood had a real interest in making all adults and elders seem wise, powerful, and all-knowing. So with that as an example, if an adult grew up and had concerns or questions, chances were that adult didn’t share them. They didn’t ask questions, or warn the next generation that being an adult came with no manual. The facade was maintained.
When the printing press came along there was some change to this. Newspapers, books, and magazines could convey information across both great distances and long periods of time. And some people questioned what it was to be adult. But most mass media was still created by adults, for adults.
Radio and broadcast television were much the same. Some loosening of the monopoly of mass-market information, more things aimed at children, but the content providers were still almost exclusively adults, often adults with the most conservative (and thus most facade-intense) upbringings.
That began to change in the 1950s, at least in the West. While shows with family lives and adventurous teen groups had existed, in the 1950s it became increasingly clear that entertainment for teens and youths was a potential big business. Things like American Bandstand began to allow teens to speak their mind on the air, unscripted, and regularly. The teens were asked about music, or movies, or dances… but they had a regular venue to express sound bite snippets of their thoughts.
There was a cultural revolution going on in the Western World for many reasons of course, but part of that was that it’s roots were televised. Teens discovered there were more places to learn about who and what they were than established authority figures. Indeed, in time “the Establishment” became a term used to suggest that there were two societies: “pure” youths, and “sell-out” adults trying to feed a monstrous an inhuman cycle of interests that were somehow not a natural product of what youths become – as if a machine had inserted itself into human development, and adults were mysteriously the only ones blind to it.
Teens and then young adults began to claim they’d never grow up. Never care about mortgages, and raising families with more than they had, and retirement concerns. Adults, they said, were wrong. Stay young forever. Peter Pan was a Hippie, and television was his his Tinkerbell.
Lots of factors fed into the growing divide between adult and child, from the Vietnam War to Watergate to various musical movements. But one factor that keep those revolutions cycling long after their specific movements lost power was that each one put more ideas from the young out where other youths could hear, think, and reply.
The internet was one of the most powerful additions to this trend, though smart phones may actually be more powerful. Suddenly not only could teens communicate their ideas, they could do so on a nearly-even playing field. And the idea that ‘adulthood” was a staid, formal, unassailable position of authority was dealt another serious blow.
And that blow was dealt while people raised in the 40s and 50s are still around. There is, right now, a range of generational assumptions about what it is like to be an adult. And with the labeling of generations, lines have been drawn about who is biased, who is lazy, who is self-absorbed, who is racist, who is just flat evil.
A *person* can be any of those things. A generation is just a set of social norms absorbed through similarity of cultural events, and the trends that grew from group reactions to those events. Generations aren’t all lazy, or all racist.
And if you look around and try to figure out why “everyone else” you have ever known is better at “adulting” than you? Just know that people with your questions have existed since Ogg moved out of his father Ug’s cave.
Ogg just didn’t have the internet to ask the questions about why living on his own suddenly felt weird.