As any card-toting member of POEM (Professional Organization of English Majors) knows, Jonathan Swift’s 1729 satire, A Modest Proposal, offers a chillingly simple solution to Irish poverty: Those in need should sell their year-old children as food. Swift joked that he had been assured by a “knowing American” that infants would be “most delicious . . . whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled.” In addition to providing his countrymen with a steady source of income, Swift insisted that his proposal would decrease the number of children born out of wedlock, curb hunger and overpopulation, and reduce aid to the poor. As a result, it would be a tremendous boon to the Irish economy.
You might assume I’ve been thinking about Swift’s proposal because of worldwide bank failures, loan defaults, credit downgrades, and unemployment rates. Not at all. The impetus, I’m afraid, is the current generation of young adults, people I know and in some cases am related to, people who now are too old and tough for even fricassee or ragout. In fairness to them and in service to their parents, their colleges, and their future employers, I’d like to offer this minor revision of Swift’s original work:
A Modest Proposal. For reducing the appearance that grown-up children are a burden on their parents and country, and for making them seem more beneficial to the public.
You know what the problem is: We’re too well connected to these young folks. We’re on speed dial on their cellphones. We’re Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and Flickr voyeurs. We email, instant message, text, and Skype. And as a result, we know far too much about them. I’m not talking about the mundane things, the tweets about what they had for breakfast or the public cell phone calls that apparently keep them from falling into a BOTTOMLESS, LIGHTLESS, WIFI LESS SOCIAL VOID while they’re walking to class or waiting for the elevator door to open.
I’m talking about their flagrant celebrations of how much they party, how much they curse, how much drama they create, how much disrespect they show. (I’m also concerned about how poorly they spell and punctuate, but that’s another story.)
These days, we know whatever our young folks are brazen enough to type. And this is no way for us–the adults who must one day relinquish responsibility for the world to them–to live.
Remember what it was like in the “olden days”? It was understood that when we were young, we would be angry, be in love, be an embarrassment to society, but in private, in a journal we kept under lock and key and probably redacted or burned once we’d had time to think. We were bad, of course we were, but we did not flaunt it. We had problems, of course we did, but we didn’t grant the world access to them.
And in the really good olden days, I’m told, adults received letters from the young people in their lives, informing them after the fact that they had survived the cholera epidemic, recovered from the fall down the mountain, or parted from a beloved, and assuring them that they were behaving with decorum and using their allowances wisely.
Yeah, right. So they lied, too. The point is, most of the time, the old folks never knew.
We do. Perhaps our young folks forget we’re out here, on the other end of the bandwidth. Or they figure, hey, if the old girl/guy is savvy enough to set up a Twitter account, then s/he’s open-minded enough to embrace the “real” me, the “gritty” me, the “If its snowing where ur, biyatch, come here where the 4cast is 100% chance of drunk” me. (Kids! )
Technology—like contemporary music– used to belong to the young. But we old folks have encroached on their territory, crossing the border between being their elders and being their peers. And none of us knows what to make of the other.
But if we’re not going to pop them in the Le Creuset while they are young enough to fit in the pot, what recourse do we have but to unsee and unhear until they learn to pause long enough to think before they post?