I remember a time when I was rich. I was kid and my family had just gotten our first TV. It had 13 channels. You had to get up and spin the dial to change them. For the most part 6 or 7 actually worked well, and the rest were mostly static. But that didn’t really matter because I was always outside pissing off the neighbours with my friends.
When I search the area where I grew up in Google Maps, I can see that I spent the majority of my time in a 3km radius. For the first ten years on my life that territory was my world. Writing this is the first time I’ve become aware of just how real those imaginary borders were.
When I was around twelve years old, my family got their first dial up internet connection. At the time, few things in my life made me more fucking mad than when I was chatting with some exotic female creature (usually from a neighbouring school), and my mom would unknowingly pick up the phone and cut the signal. Looking back now, I’m proud to say that the first pair of female breasts I saw weren’t on a grainy webcam feed, but that wasn’t for a lack of trying.
A lot of people, older mostly, like to point out that us millennials are an uninspired bunch. That the conveniences we’ve been exposed to have somehow extracted our ability to work hard and care about important things. But that’s not the way I see it. I think we are dealing with an issue that is far more psychologically complex than any the generation so prone to pointing an accusatory finger at us had to deal with.
In the past, if you lived in a town with a bread factory you went to work making bread. Or you worked at the bank that handled the workers money, or the hospital that dealt with their injuries. Maybe you were adventurous, and moved into the big city down the road to partake in whatever racket was going on there. Hell, maybe you moved to Africa. Whatever you did, no one outside of your immediate circle really cared, because everyone got to exist how they wanted to inside of their own little bubble.
Now a days it’s different. We live in a borderless hyper connected world. We’re attached to devices that give us real time updates on the lives of everyone we’ve ever met, and many people we haven’t. Now I’m not here to bash technology, just to point out an imbalance. If you aren’t careful, technology will rob you of the most valuable thing in your life, time. Now I could site statistics at this point, but I don’t have to because you and I both know we’re on our phones way too much. And this is where I think, as millennials, we’ve earned the label of complacency.
What I think older generations identify as a lack of motivation in us is actually a paradox of choice. We have unlimited access to an unlimited amount of options for what we could do with our lives. All directly at our fingertips. Those options update every second of every day and leave us feeling like a deer in fucking headlights. I think many of us are locked in that bewildered state. When faced with an opportunity or challenge —most of the time these are one and the same— the easiest option is to glaze over and check Facebook, or Instagram, or Snapchat, or whatever digital social gruel comes next, and just defer action all together.
Our challenge is to identify and overcome this psychological pacification that turns us into constant consumers of mindless information. We have to consciously refuse the things that compel us to become habitual wasters of our most precious resource. We have to guard our time more vigilantly than any other previous generation, and vehemently teach that to the children who won’t get to experience a time without TV’s, or smartphones, or tablets.
You don’t have to smash your phone, but put it down. Close your laptop. Open your front door and walk outside. If old Ethel next door is gardening, offer her a hand, ask her how her day is going. If the kids down the street are playing tag, join them. Walk three blocks and listen to the sounds of your neighbourhood and pick up a few pieces of trash along the way, and if you don’t come back feeling better then go back out and try it again. The more you start to look for meaning in real places with real people, the more you will start to find it. True wealth is found in experiences, and anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something you don’t need.