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Gen Y, it’s time to step up

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Managing editor Adaeze Elechi is a junior Journalism major.

Congratulations, my generation! You continually perplex the world as to exactly who you are. People have tried to label us time and again: GenY, Gen Creative, Echo Boomers. Giant corporations keep trying to get in our heads to know how to sell their products to us: how many dashes of self-consumption, how many pints of “you’re not good enough” and how many gallons of sex appeal does it take to get one 16-25-year-old to buy this pair of jeans? They call us depressed, overmedicated, self-gratifying and uncaring. And somehow, according to my dad, “the next big things in arts, science, government and medicine have to come from these young people to move the world forward.” No pressure. Thanks, Papa.

For my third-year-writing class, we spent some time researching and discussing our generation: who we are, how we can be so connected to the world through technology and yet be so consumed by ourselves, how the number of Myspace friends we may or may not have has come to define us as individuals.

People (especially older generations) expect a great deal from us. They seem to conclude that because we have these incredible tools: the Internet and technology, not only can we know what’s happening in all the corners of the Earth, we should also fix all the Earth’s problems.

While this makes me want to find those people, shake them and scream, “You ask far too much of me and my generation,” the truth is that what they are asking us to consider now, the world will demand and force out of us in a little while.

It’s true what my father says: the great and good things of the future have to come from us because in a minute (at least it’ll feel like a minute) this country, this hemisphere, this world will gradually be put in our hands and we will be responsible for the wellbeing of ourselves and generations before and after us. No pressure.

But it’s not like we don’t care.

Sure, I probably spend more time on Facebook than I do reading about the situations in the Congo, in Kenya, in the Middle East, in New Orleans, but really, how am I supposed to end a war? Or house all homeless people in the world or feed all the starving people in Africa?

Here’s something else my dad says about us: “This age group is quite idealistic and becomes frustrated with the realities of the world (as seen in Darfur), and they think they cannot do anything to influence any meaningful change to the mess caused by people of my generation.”

The amount of information we’re exposed to through technology is great, but it is also paralyzing. We understand the scope of the war in Iraq much more than our parents did of the Vietnam War, and what we see, hear and read about it is frightening. I think that a lot of us in this generation know what’s right and what’s wrong. Many of us know what we want the world to be. I don’t think we hole ourselves up in ourselves because we don’t care. I believe even those who say they don’t care didn’t start out that way. I think it’s because we just don’t know how to fix such colossal world issues.

But I won’t lie to myself or to anyone: we have become a numb, calloused and self-involved generation. We may have access to every nation on the planet through technology, yet we choose to cocoon ourselves in only what we want to know and love. (Here at Belmont, it takes the form of drowning ourselves in the chase for fame and career success). We choose not to think about the dying soldiers and civilians in the Middle East, not to look in the eyes of the raped mothers and daughters in East-African conflicts, not to remember the displaced and homeless in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina or in Java, Indonesia from that giant tsunami in 2006.

We can blame technology, the Internet and the pressure to be amazing all we want, but the fact is that this is who we have become. But it’s not who we have to be.

I will be the first to admit that it is hard to do, but it is time to peel off the calluses on our hearts and start really feeling other people’s pain. It is time to swim to the surface and breathe in reality because in a minute, strangers’ problems will be placed in our hands and we will have to face them. We will have to begin moving and fixing the world. No pressure.

February 28, 2008

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