Cultural Compass (part 4: Adultolescents & Exaggeration)

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

What is beyond insane? Is this *literally* the worst day of your life? Would you do anything for a Dr. Pepper?

My parents gave me my first cell phone at the beginning of high school. To kids today, this sounds oppressively old fashioned (I can already hear my future children clamoring for a device). Anyhow, I recorded my first voicemail greeting that said something like, “Hey! You’ve reached Claire’s cell. Leave a message and I’ll call you back. Love you!”

My parents were disturbed. They sat me down and told me they were very disappointed in me. I didn’t understand. I was a good student and never snuck out of the house. They told me I didn’t, in fact, love everyone who might call, and I was to change my greeting immediately. I agreed, but didn’t really get it. I totally love all my friends and want them to know all the time! My parents will never understand me

Right, so that’s what my parents were afraid of–my overuse and/or misuse of “love” devaluing the actual meaning. But hold on, Rhianna wants (and so do you!) to be made to feel like she’s the ONLY girl in the world. Bruno Mars caught a grenade for me! I admit, I’m a little late to this party, but now that I’m here, I’m going to open the bottle I brought and pour myself a glass.

Perhaps we are “a generation that is scared of commitment, linguistically deferring reality.” Maybe we’re all cry babies conditioned to understand that the louder we wail, the more attention we get. And, if that’s not enough, there’s a whole generation of 30 going on 13’s, or adultolescents that are now the editors (more in tune with being the interns) and the lawyers (more fit to be freshmen at the frat party).

It all seemed so real and true to me when I was 14 and composing my emo away messages on AIM. The intensity of emotions and increased excitement of adolescence is expected. This prolonged adolescence, however, is starting to look a lot like sensation addiction. The emotional exaggeration that has become a stylistic emblem of our society is scary.

Sensation addiction is not new. We anticipate the hedonic impact of certain actions and behaviors (AIM away messages grew up with us to become play-by-play Facebook updates about your baby or broken leg). At some point, we get desensitized to the dose and the next hit isn’t too hard to find. We don’t just need it, we deserve it.

In the end, though, how will we tell what extreme emotion is–good or bad–if everything is expected to be exaggerated? How can I tell if you’re interested or if you’re feigning because that’s what we feed Facebook? Being “thrilled” these days is just as good as my perky wedding planner’s e-mail template. Tragedy is just as good as the emoji with the long stream of tears.

I’m waiting for the reality check.

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