On Past and Present Futures

In defense of a generation on path to be lost

“We were making the future, and hardly any of us troubled to think what future we were making.”

This sentiment is expressed by Graham, the sleeper, in H.G. Wells’s When the Sleeper Wakes, a story about a man from Victorian London who falls asleep and wakes up two centuries later. Now, correct me, someone older, if need be, but this could be said about pretty much anyone up until quite recently, couldn’t it?

Every generation born since the start of the industrial revolution up until around the early 1980’s has made a bigger impact on the world than anyone before yet never really stopped to consider the future they were making. They took for granted that the future simply always would be bigger and better than the present, by default and design. But then things changed, and people born since the start of the 1980’s and onwards are perfectly and painfully aware that our every choice and move is shaping the future, and not just for ourselves but for our children and all of humanity.

No, we millennials do not take the future for granted because our future never quite came, did it? We have seen our future gradually vanish in front of our eyes, all while trying to carve out and rescue a piece of it. All of you older people know what I’m talking about if you stop to think about it. After all, you raised us. Remember? The future you had us think we were growing up into, as children? The wall had fallen, capitalism had gloriously conquered and all the wars of the past century were over; from then on it was going to be nothing but ever more freedom and equality for everybody and if we could all just survive the millennium bug we would get to grow up as individuals and realize our potential and shit. That was supposed to be our future and it was supposed to be happening now.

Thus, we millennials know that the future doesn’t simply happen but needs to be nourished and protected lest it might slip away, and this is gradually becoming an ever greater source of frustration as a result of the fact that we, as of yet, still hold very little real power in the world. The bulk of all genuine positions of power continues to be occupied by baby boomers and generation x’ers who still operate on the assumption that the future simply always will be bigger and better no matter what we do to it.

So, older generations, before you write us millennials off as selfish and shallow, stop to think about that for a minute or two. We are carrying the weight of the world and the future of all of humanity on our shoulders coupled with a sense of not being able to do anything about it. Can you really blame us for reverting our attention to things that we can in fact control?

We are the first modern generation with a future to lose.

***

This post was originally published on Medium.

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