On the Steady Decline of our Great American Culture, or, “Kids These Days”

You know, when I was your age I walked to school barefoot in the snow. Uphill. Both ways!

And I didn’t complain.

Well, actually, I carpooled or took public transportation while wearing shoes in the temperate climate of northern California, and I probably complained quite a lot. But you get the idea.

Kids these days got no respect, no decorum, and certainly no sense of culture.

Or so I’m told.

Take this article from the upstanding scholars at the New York Times.  As it turns out, “the kind of hyperbole young people are prone to traffic in, like, all the time” is now infecting “otherwise literate adults” who have reduced themselves to using tacky, curt, and grammatically incorrect “fragments,” to regurgitate other’s content all over the Internet.

Young women are even more to blame – these fragments “mostly seem like ‘girl-speak’ that’s become ‘Internet-speak.’ We talk to each other in fragments because of how short on time we are now that we’re liberated.”

Yes, that’s it exactly.

No, wait. Let’s back this train up and try again.

So, first of all. I have to admit to being somewhat old fashioned, particularly in the language department. I hate the term YOLO. I’m okay with portmanteaus in theory – any word coined by Lewis Carroll is fine by me – but I generally hate them in practice. “Amazeballs” is one of the worst words to ever happen to me. If you send me a cryptic email in all lower case with no punctuation – I don’t care if it’s from your phone, I’ll still write back mocking you as “e e [whomever].”

And that’s my right.

But you know what? English is a living language, and that means it’s going to live. And that’s a good thing, too, because otherwise wit á béon efenwrítaþ swá þes.

Sorry, my Middle English isn’t what it used to be.

This article may not have bothered me so much if I didn’t run into this sentiment over and over again. One stupid guy at the NY Times I can deal with, but it seems like every time I turn around someone is bemoaning the terrible travesty of kids these days. Whether they’re self-indulged, thoughtless, stupid, shallow, cheap, or any other number of cruel names, someone’s always got it in for the young people.

And these complaints are all tied together. “Kids these days” are the future – better whip them into shape now before the future is forever lost. Why can’t they be like we were – perfect in every way?

But, that’s a misplaced sentimentality. Yes, things change. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, I make a mental correction anytime someone writes Internet without a capital ‘i’. But we are all co-creators of our world – and our language – and we should welcome young people to that role as peers.

We should respect the contributions they make – even if we disagree. We should disagree as peers.

It’s a remarkable time for language. A single word can mean so much more than it used to.

THIS.

I can’t even.

Fragments, perhaps. Possibly not the best grammar to ever grace the face of the earth. But packed with meaning nonetheless. There’s so much emotion in those words. So much shared understanding.

Words are precious because they are the currency of our communication. They are the tools that allow a complex thought to travel from me to you, or from you to me.

You can accomplish this through poetry, you can accomplish this through prose. And if you can accomplish this through a simple statement, so much the better. That is where the art lies.

And that is amazing.

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