Friday, February 04, 2005

Meet the Twentysomethings, part one.

After years of expensive education,
a car full of books and anticipation,
I’m an expert on Shakespeare and that’s a hell of a lot
but the world don't need scholars as much as I thought.*
According to the cover story in the January 24 issue of Time Magazine, we never existed in the '70s.

What do you mean, we?

Twentysomethings. Thresholders. Twixters.

Here's an excerpt from the article**.
Michele, Ellen, Nathan, Corinne, Marcus and Jennie are friends. All of them live in Chicago. They go out three nights a week, sometimes more. Each of them has had several jobs since college; Ellen is on her 17th, counting internships, since 1996. They don't own homes. They change apartments frequently. None of them are married, none have children. All of them are from 24 to 28 years old.

Thirty years ago, people like Michele, Ellen, Nathan, Corinne, Marcus and Jennie didn't exist, statistically speaking. Back then, the median age for an American woman to get married was 21. She had her first child at 22. Now it all takes longer. It's 25 for the wedding and 25 for baby. It appears to take young people longer to graduate from college, settle into careers and buy their first homes. What are they waiting for? Who are these permanent adolescents, these twentysomething Peter Pans? And why can't they grow up?
I have a brother still in college, at 24 years. He has switched schools and majors so many times, I can't remember what his original course was. In my uncharitable moods, I privately call him a w----l or a sl-----. So what is he? A much-delayed Gen-Xer, or a freak of his time?

The article says otherwise. The years between 18 and 25, social scientists say, are a period where most young people put off their eventual road to adulthood.
Maybe I'll go travelling for a year,
finding myself or start a career.

I could work for the poor though I’m hungry for fame

we all seem so different but we're just the same.
The argument goes that twixters are "reaping the fruits of decades of American affluence and social liberation" and that this new period is "a chance for young people to savor the pleasures of irresponsibility, search their souls and choose their lifepaths."

Young, middle-class Filipinos may not have had decades of Philippine affluence at hand, but is it not more than enough to say that we embody a lot of these American traits?

The article says that others are worried, however, that twixters can't grow up, simply because they can't. "Those researchers fear that whatever cultural machinery used to turn kids into grownups has broken down, that society no longer provides young people with the moral backbone and the financial wherewithal to take their rightful places in the adult world."
Maybe I'll go to the gym, so I don't get fat,
aren't things more easy with a tight six pack?
Who knows the answers? Who do you trust?
I can't even separate love from lust.
Teri Apter, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, noticed that a high number of students after college were struggling. Otherwise well-adjusted and expensively-educated 23 year-olds "wound up sobbing in their old bedrooms, paralyzed by indecision." For parents and members of the older generation, this can come across as extremely weird behavior.

But Jeffrey Arnett, a developmental psychologist at the University of Maryland, says otherwise. He thinks that twixters are doing "important work to get themselves ready for adulthood." Bar-hopping, job-switching, and living with parents, anyone?
Maybe I’ll move back home and pay off my loans,
working nine to five answering phones.
Don't make me live for my friday nights,
drinking eight pints and getting in fights.
A striking part of the article took my interest. This is Arnett's thinking in why twixters are what they are.
In his view, what looks like incessant, hedonistic play is the twixters' way of trying on jobs and partners and personalities and making sure that when they do settle down, they do it the right way, their way. It's not that they don't take adulthood seriously; they take it so seriously, they're spending years carefully choosing the right path into it.
This could perhaps be the best quote of the article, or the most deluded nonsense I've ever had the pleasure of reading. I'm not sure that something that sounds initially confusing can turn out to be good advice. But the world is fickle, and time stops for no one. How much more leeway can the world give us?

To be continued.

*Jamie Cullum is a Twentysomething indeed. Lyrics, of course, are his.
**Idea for the blog post from the incomparable Dude.