Sunday, April 07, 2019

There's No App For That

Unbeknownst to anyone under the age of thirty, there was a time when there was no digital technology -- and believe me, it was better.  I know.  I was there.

Ah, those were the good old analog days, before the internet's standardization ruined everything. Back in the day, everything from getting that job to dating that blonde revolved around genuine knowledge, fearlessness of risk and real time human interaction.  One could build his young life using no more than an idea in his mind and a twinkle in his eye. Technology? That stuff may have sent astronauts to the moon, given us Tang and pocket calculators, but it was no substitute for visceral, animal drive.

To grow up analog meant one had to actually know facts, data and history.  We explored and learned as much as we could, including how money and people work, because that's what gave us the edge over the other guys.  The last thing anyone did was sit in the dark all day watching a screen, because that wasted precious time. We wanted to be out there, searching, hunting and conquering opportunity.

Of course, things have changed drastically since then. An entire generation now really believes that making one's way in the world depends on where you click and which way you swipe.  Personal pride and a mastery of knowledge has given way to their weakening dependence on Google, and even the most menial challenges have apps to solve whatever issues perplex them, usually on a monthly subscription basis.

To keep this generation from feeling threatened by others' successes, the once-closed personal offices of my generation have been replaced by open, communal workspaces, where nobody monopolizes the views from those once-cherished corner office windows -- participation trophies for the workplace.  Modern floor-to-ceiling glass walls are sold as "luxurious," but actually enhance the peer pressure, communally intimidating anyone who might dare to invoke even the slightest right to privacy.

And so we have arrived at the point where the first internet generation has grown into post-collegiate adulthood, primed and ready for a lifetime of failure.

Just as we feared, our current young adults are woefully lacking in general knowledge, let alone the histories, cultures and sciences of America and the rest of the world, primarily because they've been raised to find answers rather than solve problems. The internet has taught them that pointing and clicking is better and faster than critical thinking.  What is now more important than Why and How. As such, many of them are completely helpless when the WiFi goes out, sitting blankly for hours with their phones in their hands, wondering how long it will be until service is restored.

It gets worse.

These young adults don't date, either. They never developed any social skills through real time human interaction, because the internet didn't let them.  All they know about dating are its apps, most of which produce nothing more than a quick hookup, a few moments of sexual gratification and an ever-growing bitterness toward the opposite sex.  Turns out that "Netflix and chill" doesn't translate into "happily ever after."

Hold on, I'm not done.

The job market is just as depressing, because companies allow algorithms to scan and reject resumés without any real time human interviews, which means the applicants' characteristics that drive human interaction have no way of being evaluated.  The result is that almost nobody gets a real job from Monster, or worse yet, LinkedIn, based on the single most important employment factor of all. And even if there is a real time interview, those on both sides of the table have absolutely no idea how to interact with each other.

If all this sounds awful, I assure you, it is.  But for all the hand-wringing, there is a silver lining:  A lovely sense of schadenfreude for silver-haired scoundrels like myself, watching in amusement from the sidelines, who always knew that the internet would fail us:

You see, we analog humans knew all along that there was no shortcut to owning and mastering one's own life.  We learned early on that if we were going to succeed, it would be because we took both the initiative and responsibility for ourselves.  We had no Google, because we didn't need it.  To have relied on some robot was an affront to our individuality and self-worth.  It still is.  We didn't buy into lazy, get rich quick schemes and never trusted those who offered them.

But the fools of the internet generation are different.  They know nothing of this.  They really believe that paying an algorithm to prepare and deliver their food and clothing is the way to go, because they really are that helpless and devoid of self-worth.

Of course, life has a way of sorting these things out.  Perhaps one day, the internet generation will figure things out, but when they do, they'll be far older than we were when we came of age.  Most will be married, maybe with kids, trapped as cogs in a gray, automated service economy where nobody accomplishes anything other than keeping the system running.

It's depressing, for sure. But all is not lost.

I submit that there will always be a few smart ones -- renegades, rogues and real assholes -- who will catch on to the scams of the man behind the curtain.  They'll figure it out quickly.  In fact, some already have.  You can tell who those kids are.  They're not the ones who are laughing with their social justice warrior friends.

They're the ones laughing at them.