This is my alarm clock. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
As I was adjusting it last night for daylight saving time, it dawned on me that I’ve been using it for at least fifteen years. Most people probably use their smartphone alarm, but I don’t unless I’m away from home. I don’t even keep it in my room.
This alarm clock is one of many objects I’ve had for a long time and have kept using despite the availability of more modern options. There’s also my orange jacket, acquired at a Salvation Army in Missouri about fifteen years ago as well, which if you’ve seen me in the fall or winter you have most likely seen.
These objects started as mere tools, but they are good and simple enough to go on dependably doing their jobs, so they gradually became the architecture of my life. They are nearly invisible to me, assumed and expected, until a dead battery or a frayed stitch alert me anew to their existence and need for care.
Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up asks us to thank our stuff before we dispose of it. I don’t want to wait until my alarm clock dies or my jacket disintegrates or gets lost to appreciate their small but abiding roles in what is now half of my life.
So thanks, jacket. Thanks, alarm clock. There are many like you, but you two are mine.
I like things that make me feel small.
Like If The Moon Were Only 1 Pixel, a “tediously accurate scale model of the solar system” that, as you scroll horizontally, reveals the vast span of our neighborhood:
Or Why Time Flies, a philosophical exploration of our fungible awareness of time:
Or The Scale of the Universe (my favorite), which, as you zoom in and out, shows the comparative sizes of all creation, from the largest supercluster to the smallest neutrino (notice how everything at some point is the same size):
Or Lightyear.fm, a “journey through space, time & music” that plays songs of the past according to how far their waves have traveled from Earth since they were released:
I finally read Joel Stein’s Time magazine piece on the Millennial Generation, called “The Me Me Me Generation.” For the record, unlike some of my Millennial cohorts I hate “selfies” (the term and the thing it describes), I don’t feel entitled to a great job right out of school, and I don’t sleep next to my phone. But I don’t think the article deserved all of the antipathy it received from the blogosphere. I thought it was a fair if slightly fogeyish and surface-level assessment of overall generational characteristics. The problems my generation struggles with — like narcissism and a sense of entitlement — are so noticeable largely because of the times we live in, with everything more public and social technology more widespread. You don’t think the Baby Boomers would have peppered Instagram with pictures from Woodstock? or that Gen-Xers would have had entire Spotify playlists dedicated to their collection of sad and angsty ballads? The manifestations of narcissism by young people today merely belie the human condition that plagues all humankind: We’re selfish creatures, no matter how old we are or how many Twitter followers we have.
The combination of the influence of technology and how we collectively were reared — being told how special we were by over-protective helicopter parents — also contributes to how we are currently growing into adulthood. Generally speaking, we’re able to postpone full emergence into adulthood and still live with our parents because (a) we can and our parents don’t seem to mind (or at least don’t say so), and (b) because the economy sucks and has changed so much that traditional jobs and careers aren’t as feasible anymore. The Boomers were anxious to get out of the house and their parents were eager for them to leave, so naturally the way things are done now clashes with the way of the past. Welcome to The Present Reality.
Having said that, we can’t abdicate responsibility for making choices about our lives. We don’t have to live with our parents or check Facebook ten times a day or start a YouTube channel to get famous, but we do anyway (well, not me, but the collective We certainly do). And that doesn’t just go for Millennials: Facebook usage is declining among younger people because their parents (Boomers! shakes fist) have slowly taken over. Magazine columnists can try to pin the narcissism epidemic on young people all they want, but when I go to restaurants nowadays I see just as many if not more parents on their phones than younger people. We can’t simply blame the times and the technology for our behavior, because we’re human beings with the capacity to choose whether to succumb to societal forces or to instead carve our own path, peer pressure be damned.
I think we’ll be all right. Like generations before us, we have a great opportunity to make things better. That will involve some pushing back against the political and cultural acrimony that has characterized the Boomers’ ascendency and reign, but every generation has had to clean up the messes of its predecessors. We Millennials will inevitably make mistakes, and our kids will have been formed by them in some way, for better or for worse. Let’s just hope it’s for the better.