“21st century citizen. Do you belong in this day and age? If you do, explain why – and if you don’t, when in human history would you rather be?”
A bit tricky this one, because there’s good and bad today, and there was certainly both good and bad in the old days. In the interests of editorial balance let’s consider both the pros and cons of the modern age.
1) Do I belong in this day and age? Yes.
It’s all too easy – and not even remotely original – to decry the modern world we live in. Famously, there is graffiti in Pompeii bemoaning the 79AD version of ‘the youth of today’. It wasn’t new then either: I’ve borrowed the title of this post (Oh, the times! Oh, the customs!) from the Roman poet and orator Cicero, who lived about a century before then.
(And I’d just like to point out that there are no exclamation marks in the Latin original because there were no exclamation marks in classical Latin. Even if not quite reason enough per se to want to be a Roman citizen, this can only be a good thing.)
There’s no shortage of things to decry in the modern world: terrorism, poverty, reality TV. But equally, there’s a lot to be grateful for: antibiotics, the internet, dishwashers. Mustn’t forget dishwashers.
So the fact that ‘fings ain’t what they used to be’ is not inherently bad. Far from it. Equally, hankering after some perceived ‘Golden Age’ could easily prove to be yet another illustration of the old homily ‘be careful what you wish for’. Just consider these superficially attractive days of yore – earlier times in human history that you might sentimentally think would have been nice to be alive in – and some of their grimmer realities:
Ancient Athens: stroppy Spartans; Greek grammar (optative mood, anybody?); olives
The Golden Age of Chivalry: boiling oil; bubonic plague; no toothpaste
The Roaring Twenties: mass unemployment;The Great Crash; Prohibition
I’d have to say, therefore, that I’d rather be living now than in some unrealistically misty-eyed idyll of the past. But it’s not a completely open-and-shut case:
2) Do I belong in this day and age? No.
Because: Justin Bieber.
Well, it’s not just him. There’s One Direction too. And all those other manufactured groups whose only ‘practical’ purpose appears to be to generate the celebrities you’ve never actually heard of who populate ‘reality’ TV shows like ‘Big Brother’ and ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’.
The music’s terrible as well.
So, bearing in mind that grinding poverty and the possibility of violent death, while not to be belittled, are hardly new phenomena, essentially the worst thing that’s unique to modern life is errr….the youth of today.
‘Twas ever thus.