by Shujoy Dutta
Most of my Facebook friends spent the last week gushing about The Dark Knight Rises and Christopher Nolan’s talent. These are men and women aged 28-45. Driven to paroxysms of delight by a comic book hero in grey-black rubber. If you think I’m dismissive of them, you’re wrong. I just haven't gotten my hands on a ticket yet. Otherwise I'd be there on the Facebook app announcing which Dark Knight character I would most likely be.
During a similar weekend long, long ago, in a neighbourhood not so far away, my mother (similarly aged) oversaw the homework of three kids, one of whom was preparing for her board exams, ran the goings on of an extended family and cooked a meal for forty. My father (just a little older) worked in his factory, managed the demands of factory workers, checked the homework of aforementioned three kids, bought provisions for also aforementioned meal for forty and made time for the local temple and the duties it demanded. If you mentioned catching the latest superhero flick to them – they would have dismissed it outright as childish.
I, on the other hand, live for men in Spandex and multifunctional touchscreen devices.
80s India might have been a tougher place to live, the money limited and marriages early, but it just feels so much more grown up.Let me explain.The joke about how the geeks in Caltech or MIT were brilliant but socially awkward went something like this: How do you get 4 Caltech engineers in a room to talk to each other? Install 4 computers. Today that joke is on all of us.
The typical scene on Saturday night is home-delivered biryani and booze, electronica/Hindi film hits on the iPod dock and groups of people staring intently at their smartphones. If you ignore the cellulite, hair loss and double chins this could be a group of socially awkward adolescents forced into sharing the TV room while the parents talk dirty in the living room.
Unfortunately, the extended adolescence extends beyond our parties.My single friends have been doing the same thing for the last twenty odd years. They work, skulk around pubs, try and get lucky, go home, play some hours of Nintendo Wii or watch a downloaded film, microwave the dinner that’s in the fridge, post some world observation online, wait for comments, read some pulp, watch TV or yap on the phone till they fall asleep. Their good friends the DINKs do much the same. Except they have a roommate they’re in a relationship with.
Only the guys who are parents are a tad more responsible. When they aren’t on Playstation or Second Life.
We read Twilight or Harry Potter. We watch Batman. We text. We facebook. We download. We’re deeply affected by Leonardo di Caprio’s script choices. We ‘Like’ our social causes. When we get happy, we post online, when we need cheering up, we post online. We stay with our parents, lie about who we’re meeting or what we are up to at night. Our parents still manage our finances, cook for us and remind us of social engagements. There’s little to separate our lives from that of someone half our age, aside of the bank balance.
Why? Well living longer and postponing life-stages has something to do with it. We marry late, have kids later still, and consequently spend a lot more time pampering ourselves. We also have more money than our parents ever did. But I think the key factor is we have toys. Toys that we tire of playing with in a short while.
Smartphones, music devices, flatter TVs, lighter laptops, bigger cars, more or less buttons, curves or straight lines. We want the latest toy and we have the money or EMIs to get it. We are great at playing generous parents to ourselves.
If our parents bought something it was typically for the family and it lasted a decade and was then recycled. (The refrigerator that went kaput was reincarnated as a cupboard.) Also there wasn’t a lifestyle version 2.0 available in the near future, so everyone looked long term and invested in the sort of things that would make their children’s lives better. They looked beyond themselves.
We on the other hand can’t look beyond the fact that we got only 4 likes for that incredibly funny wall comment. I think it’s because we’re fundamentally comfortable with our lives and there isn’t a good reason, social or familial pressure to change it.
If you’re average at work, the most unsettling things that can happen to you is getting married and having kids. Our parents got bundled off early into matrimony and had to face the License Raj, tensions with Pakistan and the Emergency.
So why am I complaining? Because I feel that worlds shrunk-fit to accommodate the immediate and non-taxing are finally going to turn around and bite us in places that hurt. Looking at things selfishly, that’s a reason to worry.
My mother and her friends could pull fifty to a hundred recipes out of the top of their heads. The best cooks among my friends can manage half; the worst do little more than make Maggi. That’s fifty dishes we won’t get to eat. We left organizing colony pujas and social gatherings to guys in their 40s. The same guys in their 60s or 70s are running the show today because my generation is too busy to get involved. That’s a dozen traditions that will be gone in the next few decades.
And what about real social contact? We already spend more time with gadgets than people. Can’t you just see someone’s status update in 2040: On life-support, LOL. 51 likes.
I read in some Animal Kingdom fact-book, that the longer an animal spends in childhood and adolescence the smarter it gets. So it follows that we’ll all be geniuses in our 60s. Geniuses with microwaved dinners, avatar parties and emoticons for emotions.
Gee, I can’t wait to grow up.