By Ajay Chacko Sep. 16, 2016
Congratulations. We’ve bred a generation of young people who can buy and discard things but can no longer fix them.
Mihir’s heart is pounding in his ears as he scrambles down the street he has lived on for three years. The zombies are closing in – he can hear their unwieldy march in the background – and he has no idea where to go. Is the way to the main road past this bhajiwalla?
Suddenly, there is a piercing scream behind him. Damn, they’ve got Sia, his next-door neighbour. Her death was certain the moment she paused to consult Apple Maps for an escape route: When have those ever worked?
With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Mihir realises his 4G connection is not working yet. Shit, he thinks, I should just have inserted the SIM card on my own instead of waiting for the service provider’s guys to turn up and do it. His Vibrams are not helping either. Ought to have put them to an actual road test, instead of the treadmill. Out of nowhere, a female zombie materialises on the road ahead, dawdling toward him. His first thought is to take a picture for #latergram, then his survival instincts take over. Oh no! In his rush to escape, he’s also left behind his $24,000 Z.E.R.O. kit. But hey, he thinks, all is not lost, at least I didn’t leave without my emergency beard trimmer…
Mihir will not survive a zombie apocalypse. Mihir is a millennial. Don’t be like Mihir.
Mihir is also a dilettante, or “a person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge”. The dilettante millennial or Generation X or Y or whatever classification we’ve chosen for the post-liberalisation generation, is exposed to so many stimuli, but is completely unable to create anything of consequence. A generation of privileged young people, capable of transacting, of buying things easily – and just as easily discarding them – but not fixing them.
I base my opinion on the scientific method of a dipstick survey of the people around me. But I am not the only one who finds young people to be entitled little know-it-alls who are less than invested in learning new things or improving upon a skill. We now know that youngsters need to take their pants to a tailor to sew on a button. In Britain, they’ve earned the moniker “lost generation” – a term previously reserved for the men who died during World War I – because they can no longer repair their appliances. So dire is the situation that we realise youngsters can’t even “name a single star in the night sky” or “dry clothes on a clothesline”.
We are a world of seven billion humans who depend on a couple of thousand innovators, researchers, technologists, artists, scientists and sports people to provide answers to all our problems.
Of course all of this tut-tutting at the young is part of tradition – what sort of an older person would I be if I didn’t wring my hands over “aaj kal ke bache”? But all of this would be venting if it weren’t so frighteningly true. A young man I know has all his work shirts dry-cleaned so that he is spared the chore of having to wash them. A colleague’s mother, who lives in another city, was aghast when she visited her daughter and found that she did not even own a set of tools with which she could tighten the screws on her utensils. This colleague’s friend moved a couple of houses: In each house, the permanent fixture was a set of framed posters resting on the floor, awaiting a carpenter who could come and hang them on the wall…
A couple of generations back, some of us would at least be able to fix our bikes or make a piece of utilitarian furniture with our hands. I doubt any of us now know anything except how to replace a faulty bike by paying someone to collect our junk.
Come to think of it, I used to pride myself on an active sort of dilettantism that helped expose me to a variety of things that I may or may not choose to pursue an interest in. For my part, I had the gumption of pulling apart quite a few clocks, radios, and putting them all back together. Why, as a teenager, I even pulled apart my father’s old bike – with not so pleasant results.
But at least I tinkered. I did, and continue to, read a manual or two. And because of that, I have more than enjoyed the ability to be able to diagnose when something goes wrong with a gadget, without having to fling it in the nearest dustbin. Was this a result of the lack of many distractions that today’s young people have around them? When I was younger, there wasn’t a Steve Jobs around to offer me the idiot-proof nirvana of an iPhone. Nor did I feel the pressure of posting a video of myself taking apart my watch on social media for likes and shares from my friends in ether.
We are a world of seven billion humans who depend on a couple of thousand innovators, researchers, technologists, artists, scientists and sports people to provide answers to all our problems. The world has become even more concentrated and divided between a different kind of haves and have-nots. The haves are the ones who design the latest algos for search or driverless cars or space travel and the have-nots are the suckers for all these inventions by the brilliant minds at work.
There is an interesting book by Mathew Crawford titled The Case for Working with Your Hands: Or Why Office Work is Bad for Us and Fixing Things Feels Good. It’s a treatise of sorts for the post-Pirsig generation where “value” and quality definitions have seen the most dramatic changes witnessed in the history of mankind. The book glorifies (in case the title didn’t make it clear enough) the power of “getting your hands dirty”. Of understanding beyond the surface, of not just being a passive consumer, but a sort of a creator of things, even if it means the smallest of increments.
This is perhaps the only hope for the generation we are now breeding, a generation of passive consumers who learn how to navigate the newest devices, yet are completely helpless when the device in question fails. GPS is a classic case study. There is very little interest left in understanding the neighbourhoods beyond our immediate surroundings, if we can’t reduce them to points on a map.
But we already know what happens to people who reduce their neighbourhoods to map pins. Those people get chewed up by zombies.
Edited by Karanjeet Kaur