As we grow into adulthood, we lose our innocence. One after another, the walls of childhood naïvete fall down as we begin to realize the cynical nature of life. Some of these new understandings are more innocuous than others, requiring only simple corrections to our previously juvenile thoughts. In an innocent fashion, for instance, we might move on from watching a Teletubbies program into viewing the latest murder mystery on Netflix. But more often, maturing into adulthood requires reorientations beyond these simple adjustments, instead invoking painful, shattering truths: we realize that our parents are highly imperfect, no different from the rest of society; we realize that our republic runs not by the constitutional rights we were taught, but through shifty systems and leaders that undermine these ideals instead; we realize that pastors are also capable of succumbing to temptation, rupturing the safe bubble that was once our perception of morality; and we realize that our friends may not be who we thought they were, as even those closest to us do not always have our best interests at heart. Through these realizations, we witness how the world we used to know was an illusion, and that our world is instead comprised of natural disasters, malicious people and the chaos of life. As the millennial expression goes, we eventually lose our faith in humanity, and endlessly look for ways to restore it.
But while adolescents in every generation undergo a period of angst and internal growing pains, I cannot help but put forth a speculations: has the time period we currently live in contributed to a more drastic child-to-young adult transition? In other words, I might argue that the youth in this era are exposed to more of the evil in the world at an earlier age than prior generations might have been. Certainly the ’60s, ’70s and any other decade has had their own woes. But with the amount of calamities appearing one after the other on our news feed today, I again ponder the idea that our generation is distinguished in its exposure.
While there is, of course, no way to prove or even quantify this blanket statement, consider one of the factors that has since affected our perception that the world: gun violence. When we stop and think about it, it seems that more and more mass shootings take place every year. Without delving too much into the politics behind this issue, we can all at least agree that gun violence is a much more prevalent occurrence during the last 15 years than it has ever been. And there is proof: since 1968, more Americans have died from gun violence than they have in war. Admittedly, though this statistic dangerously filters out what portion of deaths are from crime, accidents or mass shootings, there has still been an increase in the events like that of Vegas—Virginia Tech, Aurora Theater, Charleston, the Pulse Nightclub, Sandy Hook, Washington Navy Yard; just a few of the mass shootings in the past decade. But I am not claiming that gun violence is new—rather that the high likelihood for its appearance is unique to this era. Modern technological improvements like the bump-stock the Las Vegas shooter equipped himself with allow a single perpetrator to easily shoot at multiple targets. And on top of the ease shooters have, automatic weapons remain accessible to the public. With both of these factors making a shooter’s job easier, one can only expect more of attacks to happen.
Furthermore, if the likelihood of attacks increases, so too will our awareness of such events. Undoubtedly, the other factor that contributes to our exposure to many tragic incidents is the digital age we live in. Thanks to the rapid dissemination of news such as the videos of the Las Vegas shooting, many learn faster what goes on around the world. This is particular only to this era in history, making today the first time people can learn about something in almost real time on this large of a scale. As we witnessed with the Russian-U.S. election scandal last year, information rules our era and we are subservient to it. As such, the anguish of the world is also subject to the rapid reach the interweb has, and is naturally brought to our attention at light-speed. One can only speculate how this affects the current generation growing up. We have children now witnessing the worst of global misfortunes and the human psyche during any given news update. Of course children in this era learn quickly and at a younger age about life’s misery. Smartphones, laptops and internet speed saturate our brains en masse with data. If we receive news of something as soon as it occurs, it would not really matter whether or not this era has more tragedies than previous ones. Whether there are more occurrences being reported, or just more in general, the effect is relatively the same—the youth today are imbued with the impression a world of violence leaves.
But maybe it has not. Maybe it is still the same world I grew up in and my whole exploration of this topic is built upon a selfish assumption. Realistically, I cannot make the claim that this period is “worse” than others. Yes, the world seems to be getting crazier each second. And yes, we seem to be subject to horrible events on a daily basis unlike anything we can remember. But no one person has the right to compare his or her experiences as more legitimate than another. Surely, for example, Europeans living through the Bubonic Plague in the late Middle Ages believed their world was at its end. And surely the religious-ingrained society of the 18th century rattled like never before when secular Enlightenment ideas shook the its foundations. But if someone from either period was to claim that they lived in the “worst” generation, we could not justify their claim, nor they ours. There is no comparison to make, as each period experiences its own turmoil in either culture or society. Furthermore, selfishly believing that one’s struggle is greater than another’s generates conflict. If I were to take my earlier claim about this generation seriously, I would be putting my issues above those around me, and prioritizing myself above them.
This piece I am writing began because of my disillusionment with this planet we live on. As a little kid, the world was simple and ordinary. I could go about living my life as comfortably as I wished, without worrying about ramifications. But as I matured, the freedom of childhood callowness began to restrict itself, and I began to realize that the world does not think as a child does. I started to ask when the world become so bad.