The other day I saw a clip from Conan O’Brien’s show when the comedian Louis C.K. was on. I’m not sure when it was, exactly, but it wasn’t especially recent.
LCK complained about how everything is amazing, and yet no one is happy. Things are better now than they’ve ever been in the history of the world, and people are unappreciative and unsatisfied. For example, LCK grew up with rotary dials, while today we have multi-functional cell phones, and people still complain about how long it takes a call to go to space and back down to Earth.
LCK is a very funny comedian, but in this, he’s very wrong. It’s the duty of the young not to marvel at the new. Children marvel at everything and the old marvel at how things have changed, but the young must take everything for granted, especially technology.
To them is given the awful responsibility of advancing the human race. Truly. The old are set in their ways and their traditions that have proven reliable before. The young have no ways and what is new they consume and explore as though it has always been. To them, essentially it always has, and there’s nothing special about it.
If we had been satisfied with the horse, we would not have cars. If we had been satisfied with the earth and sea, we would not have planes. If new generations had not grown up irritated by the speed, safety and comfort of both modes of transportation, we’d still be driving Model Ts and flying biplanes.
Of course, things aren’t always getting better uniformly, and often something must be sacrificed in one area to be enjoyed in another.
Certainly, older people will bemoan the stupidity of cashiers who can’t even handle giving change when the computer is down. Give coins to a person younger than 30 after the drawer is open and they’ll almost certainly freeze trying to figure out what to give you just because it isn’t displayed on a screen.
In fact, this generation isn’t especially moronic, but mental calculation just isn’t needed. You’re allowed and encouraged to use a calculator all through school. It may be a fine trick to work out the opposite over the hypotenuse in your head or work a slide rule, but a decent calculator will have the sine function there on it, so why bother?
This is the natural progression of things. People don’t go around quoting epic poems in their entirety now that we have books, and especially now that we have near-constant access to the Web with handheld devices.
People aren’t getting dumber, but they are using a different set of skills. If it’s the job of the young to advance the human race, it’s the job of the experienced to impart the collective wisdom of the past and convince the next generation that what came before is worth preserving. If the universality of calculators have made simple mental arithmetical irrelevant, then why should we mourn its passing? If it has value, why won’t it survive?
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is trumped only by “Why isn’t it better?”
Hopefully, one day our children will marvel that we were satisfied by one planet.