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The Generation After the Willy Loman Generation

I was going to put this at the bottom of the last post, but I think it warrants a totally separate discussion.  I was referring to current adults as the Willy Loman generation.

We’re the generation that saw the gatekeepers removed.  Okay, not really removed, but shunted out of the way on certain streets.  We still have agents, editors, casting directors, and music executives, but now we also have people who are having their voice heard on social media.  And it’s an entirely new way to feel like crap about your place in the world when you see someone else getting their thoughts heard through this means and you’re still not even though no one is standing in your way.

I’m not just talking about the Heather Armstrongs of the world whose writing has hit the mainstream: we have plenty of examples close to home of people that we perceive of having their voice heard.  I can look at my friends list on Facebook and see who receives a lot of feedback on their thoughts and who does not.  And I can judge my own level of feedback against others.  We each determine at what level of recognition we will be satiated, we will feel as if our voice is heard.

What I guess I’ve really been tossing around in my mind these last few days since I read that article is the idea of this next generation: the one we are creating or raising.  We’re putting our kids online.  We’re writing about them and throwing up pictures.  And part of this is keeping family and friends in the loop about our lives, but part of it is that we also make them the subject for readers, much in the same way DIY bloggers may feature the room they’re making over or a food blogger may feature a recipe.  Many parents feature their kids, and those kids are human beings who are going to one day grow up and have their own relationship with the idea of seeking attention.

I’m not trying to make anyone squirm, but I think this is a really important conversation to have and I think by the end of this post, I ultimately can see the good in posting online.

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Blogs have turned our lives — and by extension, our children’s lives — into small-scale Truman Shows.  Remember that movie?  We watch Truman from conception, and really, when it comes to infertility blogs, that’s how far back it goes in some cases.  I don’t “know” your children, but I’ve read the stories and seen the pictures, and they are an extension of the writer (whom I care about and often times have a friendship that has grown outside the blog).

And I know, at least when it comes to my kids, that they are cognizant that people know about them without ever having met them.  And really, in comparison to most kids, mine are barely online.  There are no images of them, and while I may write about my own foibles as the tooth fairy — a story that features them — I try never to write about them.  Still, they’ve scrolled through comments on a post that they’ve been in and asked who all these people are who have read the story.

Still, they know that there are people out there who are willing to pay attention.  And by default, there are no Willy Lomans currently amongst the twins and every child I know.  They are in the spotlight, and it’s not just close family and friends who are following their life as it was when I was a child.  It is family, friends, and anyone else that we connect with via social media.  And in cases such as the blog or Twitter, by not keeping the settings on private, it could be anyone in the world.

What will that do to our kids — to have that knowledge that people want to pay attention to them?  I’m not talking about the children of Heather Armstrong or Ree Drummond who are featured front and center on their blog and known by hundreds of thousands of people.  I’m talking about all our kids.  Yes, it’s a matter of scale, but (almost) everyone is on the scale.  They are aware — at least I can say they are by upper elementary school — that they are the stars of their own personal Internet show.

Will it turn all of our kids into the equivalent of child stars and will their Willy Loman-ness come from having the attention go away?  Isn’t that the common problem we see with child stars and why so many of them struggle with growing up?  They are accustomed to the attention and feeling special in front of the camera, and then they age and have to learn how to grab attention because it is no longer being handed to them on a silver platter?

Some are okay with the idea that the attention is over because they never loved it in the first place (or may have had no concept of the attention if they were young enough).  Some learn how to keep grabbing attention, aging into new acting roles because of luck or talent.  And then a portion of them deal with the fallout of having the warmth of attention snatched away from them, and unable to figure out how to get it back, become depressed or addicted or in trouble.

So it makes me wonder if by placing them online so young, we are creating a state of hedonic adaptation and forcing every child towards a mindset of screaming “look at me!” in bigger and bigger ways into the future.

Or maybe not.  Maybe this could be a good thing.

Since everyone is online and attention if being paid (in the Willy Loman fashion), does it all even out?  Are we actually doing kids a favour by showing them early on that there is nothing special, nothing magical about attention?  It’s not something they really need to strive for as we’re still doing in our generation because they’ve already learned that attention doesn’t really bring what you think it will bring.  It isn’t the panacea solving all problems.  I have a strong feeling that even if attention were paid to Willy Loman, that it wouldn’t have been enough or the right kind.  I think Willy Loman would have always ended up Willy Lomaning.

Because right now it feels as if social media is a mountain pushing its way out of the ground.  At the very top are the early adaptors who also happened to have good content who have used social media as a springboard to create a large platform or to move on to other things.  And scattered down the side of the mountain, at various heights, are the rest of the public, with some people choosing to stay on low ground and not even attempt to climb up.

But perhaps the weight of this many people on the mountain will ultimately force it to crumble and become much more like a plateau. Maybe all the reality shows and Internet highlighting shows and the fame frenzy of social media is like a fever that needs to break.

And when that happens, maybe it will be for the best, and we’ll live in a world where fame isn’t chased or rewarded.  We’ll focus locally vs. globally, on family and friends instead of strangers.  You know, utopia.

A girl can dream.

4 comments

1 Valery Valentina { 01.20.15 at 4:34 pm }

… but attention is magical…

2 a { 01.20.15 at 4:50 pm }

But hasn’t fame always been chased and rewarded? I mean, I thought the Andy Warhol quote about 15 minutes of fame was from the ’60s or ’70s. It’s “easier” to attain now, but the balance is shifting back in the ever expanding amount of content. I think most people will always desire fame/recognition/attention to some extent.

My child doesn’t have a big online presence. At one point, she objected to the photos I had of her on Facebook, so I took them all down. Now she asks and approves the photos of her that I post. Or she asks me to text them to particular people. She wants to put videos (of some sort – nothing specific yet) on YouTube to get a ton of views. But…she won’t take dance or piano lessons because she’s not having any of that recital nonsense.

At any rate, it’s my view that all people want some kind of attention. Many people would like a lot of attention (right up until that point when they actually get it). How they seek it is up to them, but sometimes it’s a matter of leaving lots of accumulated $$$ that no one suspected you had after your death and sometimes it’s a matter of being a martyr to a cause. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting the person you like to like you back. I don’t think social media makes that worse or better. To me, it’s just inherent nature.

3 Mali { 01.20.15 at 10:50 pm }

There’s fame, and there’s connection. I think the two are very different – potentially polar opposites, actually. I think for most of us who blog – particularly in the ALI community – we’re looking for connections, rather than fame.

I do see a view today amongst children (and not so young children) that “fame” is a desirable state – but then how many of us sang into our hairbrushes when we were kids, and dreamed of stardom? So is it different? I’m not sure. I do hear kids talk about their ambition to be famous, and less about their ambition to achieve X or Y. But I think as they grow (well, I hope, because I’m an optimist), they’ll realise that what they really want is to make a connection or connections with others.

4 Justine { 01.21.15 at 9:35 pm }

I worry that there will be some kids with more of a presence and others with less, and if that’s what people value, then they’ll never feel connected. Better, I think, for us to help them nurture the connections that are reciprocal, and sustaining, rather than the ones that take unnecessary energy to maintain and build. But that’s just my $.02.

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