Look at the youth of today. Look at them! With their youthful dismissiveness, floppy hats and general hope for the future of mankind, it’s enough to make a decent cynic sick with despair. However, there is a more worrying prospect associated with young people: that society is getting younger.
Tom Daly dived in the Olympics at fourteen, Courage My Love released an EP at seventeen and Wayne Rooney was a professional footballer at eighteen, and my crowning achievement for my own seventeen and a half years on this planet is a ‘good effort’ award from a football school I went to for five frakking years.
Now, I’m not particularly jealous of these people, my Dad was correct in pointing out that early public success does not always guarantee, and sometimes actively inhibits, later intellectual and emotional happiness, but it is apparent that we are expected to do everything at a much younger age than ever before.
We’re expected to have understood everything we’ve read by the time we have an English University interview at eighteen, we need to be politically and culturally aware by the time we’re tweenagers, and we’re under constant pressure from our parents to walk by the time we’re a day old so they can boast of their supreme parenting to their equally pushy friends in the form of a vine.
And this puts a load of pressure on young people: it’s not enough that we have to go through the hormonal rollercoaster we call our teenage years, the point at which our natural urges to procreate come into quite direct conflict with our societal role as ‘children’, but now we have to work hard enough academically to ensure a successful (whatever that might mean) future? Combine that with the strict rules of well-meaning but overprotective parents to not experiment with one’s friends and social life until one is forty-six years old, and the confusion that a lack of such parental disciple can bring if you lack parents or they lack discipline, and youth is a confusing mess of a time.
And it’s not just this guy; any well-meaning individual wants to help their parents, who did clothe, bathe, teach, feed and protect them for eighteen years at great economic loss, which can lead to a crap-ton of stress when one finally becomes old enough and knowledgeable enough to try to repay some of that debt. Of course, this is a debt forged out of time and love, that no-one can ever meaningfully repay, thus further confusing the matter as we economise love, and try to repay years of care and attention with a nice car or expensive holiday.
Also, our lives are getting longer because the ways we treat disease are improving (which, I must stress, is a bloody good thing), so all the meaningfulness of a once-sixty year life is now compressed into the first twenty-five years of an eighty year life; this is why the stereotype of old people sitting around all day exists, because nowadays we’re left with a life that’s interesting for the first bit, then pointless for the next five decades.
Sometimes I feel like Cole McGrath, in that I want to burn ‘half as long, twice as bright’, and like Yeats, who is so confused by his own ageing that he thinks he hears his own echo commanding him to ‘Lay down and die’; I don’t really want my life to peter out into pointlessness or boredom, and while I don’t particularly want to die in a flaming car accident at twenty-six, it would be nice to be thinking about, discussing and creating stuff long after I can’t run 5k anymore.
Perhaps this is why I’m drawn to writing: while there is an inevitability in the decline of the human body – footballers retire at 35 for God’s sake – there is less of an inevitability in the decline of the human mind. While going senile and becoming a gibbering wreck is entirely possible, Stalin did run a country right up until his death, as did Lenin and Brezhnev, so I’m sure I could bang out a dystopian novel or two when I’m in my seventies.
And even if I can’t there’ll always be this blog for my descendants to look back on, to see me in my younger, more cynical and appropriately less life-definingly important, years.