There is a strange sense in which the word “like” has followed our generation around, isn’t there? When we were children, adults kept telling us not to use that word as filler in speeches or conversation, but we had none of that, and not only have we persisted to, like, keeping talking like this, we’ve commandeered it into a noun and made it the operative enzyme of most of our internet activity. It’s also the same word we used to describe our incipient affections for people. Even in heavier situations, we have tended still either to prefer lighter words — such as in the perennial formulation “like like”, as in “I know I like Mary, but I don’t know if I like like her” — or, if we must use the heavy word or two, saturate the lexicon with them so they don’t mean much in any particular instance. We all know someone who “loves” everyone, for example. “Not cool” and “not okay” almost assuredly mean a whole lot more to us than just not cool and not okay. Most jokes are “hilarious” now, and even if that’s antiquated, they at least make us “LOL”. “If you’re sad, stop being sad and be awesome instead,” is a good example of democratizing “awesome”, which has moved from “profoundly reverential” (in the 1590s) into clearly what are, we might say, much more casual shoes.
But there’s something endearing about the way we’ve changed language — a sort of humility about touching things we don’t know better than, perhaps. A sense of self-skepticism and not wanting to draw attention to ourselves as beholders of the great or the true. It’s perhaps why our generation’s taste in art is smaller in scope and more microscopic in its inspections, preferring films like Juno to Breakfast at Tiffany’s. We don’t take outrageous displays of anything too seriously, preferring the flawed, the damaged, the inert — turning even Batman and Superman into people who stutter, fumble, and lose once in a while.
A lot of people find this sort desaturation troublesome, though, and worry about its associated acts — all of our emotional highs coming from social media, having hundreds of “friends” but no real friends, being largely self-centered, and that we don’t know how to understand, as Ashton Kutcher put it last year, that “success looks a lot like hard work.” And the truth is, that we may not understand that yet, being just 20 and change, and we have to concede this. But if we’re wrong, and our lifestyle isn’t going to make us happy, we’ll learn it ourselves, right? We’ll figure it out on our own, as we’ve already started to, that maybe experiencing our kid’s birthday party through a phone just isn’t as fun. And just like the first generation of families entering the Industrial Revolution, we’ll find a way out of the soot and smoke as well.
In the meantime, though, let’s hold on tightly to what we started with — the “like like” infancy of our generation that has allowed us to come to a place of real intelligence, emotional and otherwise, and humility. For when we do begin to learn the real world, perhaps coming into contact with forces that test our beliefs or values or convictions or judge us for them, it’s this attitude that will keep us strong, because we won’t judge them back. We will instead sit down with them and learn from them, and teach them and be good to them, and it will be awesome.