Generation Qualude

Posted on October 10, 2007
Filed Under Culture & Technology |

Thomas Friedman, author of the , wrote an interesting op-ed piece in today’s New York Times. He adds to the generational alphabet soup by entitling his piece “Generation Q.”

I just spent the past week visiting several colleges — Auburn, the University of Mississippi, Lake Forest and Williams — and I can report that the more I am around this generation of college students, the more I am both baffled and impressed.

I am impressed because they are so much more optimistic and idealistic than they should be. I am baffled because they are so much less radical and politically engaged than they need to be.

One of the things I feared most after 9/11 — that my daughters would not be able to travel the world with the same carefree attitude my wife and I did at their age — has not come to pass.

He calls this generation Generation Q for Quiet and notes that a significant number of young Americans are “quietly pursuing their idealism, at home and abroad” but also questions whether this quiet generation “may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good.” Friedman notes that while many 20-somethings are clued in to important topics, such as climate change and the federal deficit, even the engaged members seem to be far too busy emailing petitions and starting Facebook “crusades” to actually see that real world problems require real world action. Friedman argues that activism requires more activity than a mouse click.

I agree with Friedman. I have no doubt that many of my peers are genuinely concerned about the state of our nation and the world, but I also have no doubt that a significant portion of the “activism” seen today is activism for activism’s sake. It feels good to support a worthy cause, but I often get the feeling that many people, especially those in my generation, are more interested in the warm, fuzzy feelings (instant gratification) that come along with joining the “Save the Planet” Facebook group than they are about actually implementing real-world solutions. Case in point: when I saw one of the early showings of An Inconvenient Truth, the audience gave a roaring applause after the movie finished. And then half of them left the theatre to drive away in their SUVs. I guess paying for the movie and clapping for Al Gore serves as a carbon offset for their 15 mpg gas guzzler.

I agree with most of Friedman’s points but think Generation Quiet would have more aptly been named Generation Qualude because I believe many of the members of Friedman’s Generation Q have been sedated and hypnotized. They believe that a few keyboard strokes and mouse clicks in Second Life are substitutes for real action in First Life. This is not to say that the Internet cannot help make the world a better place. It can and does. With the Internet, it’s never been easier to “mobilize” the masses and unite people around topics of interest. Organizing a physical protest of thousands might take weeks but collecting hundreds of thousands of “signatures” for an online petition might only take a few days.

But there’s an irony here. Friedman points out that real activism is about courage. I think he is correct and I would note that the watershed moments in human history have more often than not been the result of courageous action by few as opposed to trite action by many. In fact, famous anthropologist Margaret Meade went so far as to state “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

It doesn’t take a whole lot of commitment or courage to join the Save Darfur Facebook group, to sign an online petition urging Congress to withdraw US troops from Iraq or to donate $25 to a farmer in Bolivia on Perhaps the greatest question facing Generation Q is whether we have the courage to log off the Internet and log into to the real world. If a revolution of change is going to occur, the revolution will not be computerized.

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