Millennials, we all seem to agree these days, have been given a bad rap. A few years ago, it was common to see them derided as lazy, entitled, listless, kind of witless, and not at all well-adjusted, not like we Boomers. Slackers, that’s what they were. Desirous of everything, willing to work for nothing. That’s what we all said.
It turns out that wasn’t at all fair. It turns out that Millennials do work hard, they scramble, they volunteer, they struggle, they hold down multiple low-wage jobs. Burdened by stereotypes, facing a terrible job market, crushed under the debt they incurred to obtain college degrees that aren’t helping them, unable to afford housing, they’ve dubbed themselves, not without justification, “Generation Screwed”.
They also point out, again not without justification, that we smug, judgmental Boomers haven’t got anything much to brag about, either. Children of the “Greatest Generation”, we turned out to be just about the worst. Talk about entitled! After preaching revolution and embracing the counterculture as adolescents, we all cut our hair, became lawyers and bankers, learned to love living off the fat of the land, and proceeded to scorch the Earth. Swarming across the landscape like locusts, we devoured resources, soiled the planet, took all the plum jobs, and then dug in for the long haul, refusing to step aside while pulling up the drawbridge and filling the moat with alligators.
You’re not supposed to leave the place worse than you found it, but we didn’t see why not. We made our governments spend borrowed money that our kids would have to pay back, we ignored crumbling infrastructure, we treated the environment like a cess pool, and generally kicked every can we encountered down the road, waiting for the next generation to pick them all up. Selfish, short-sighted, and gluttonous, we derided the Millennials for their work ethic while sitting complacently in our swivel chairs, which each of us was given by virtue of having a pulse, back when, on Everybody Gets a White Collar Job Day. Everybody, that is, who was white and male. That helped. Some sort of post-secondary degree helped, too. I didn’t matter much what it was for, and back then it wasn’t that hard to get.
That’s actually a pretty good thumbnail sketch of me and my sorry cohort. I didn’t really reap the benefit of the whole party, I was born at the tail end of the boom in 1961, and most of the punch and pie was already gobbled down by the time I arrived. Still, I had it better than kids today. I went to great public schools, and great universities on the cheap. Hospitals, roads, electric systems, water systems, transit, it was all running fine when I was young. Our parents saw to that. They paid their taxes, and elected governments that never told them that civil society shouldn’t cost anything. Our parents didn’t think the world owed them a living. That was our schtick.
So it’s true, OK? We were the worst. We’re not fit to look down our noses at anyone. The Millennials deserve our respect, and a little compassion.
I still don’t like them.
Geez, why not? Well, I know they don’t mean to be, but on a few crucial fronts the Millennials are an implacable enemy, making war on things I’ve always held dear, things I’ve relied upon all my life to buttress my flagging sanity. They’re tearing it all down, apparently on the premise that such things don’t really matter. They’ll win these battles, too, because they’re younger than me, and they get to set the agenda. They’ll be running the show when I’m deep in the cold, cold ground. Anything I care about will end up on history’s trash heap, unless they start caring about it too.
Which they won’t.
Take their use of language and the written word. I love language. They don’t. Millennials can’t spell, care nothing of grammar, don’t know what words mean, and can’t string sentences together to form coherent thoughts. This is how they communicate:
How r u? U suk IMHO, LOL.
Twitter talk. It stunts their brains. Consciousness, it bears emphasizing, is internalized language, and unknown words and turns of phrase are concepts that aren’t understood, and ideas that never occur, and couldn’t be articulated if they did. An inability to express oneself with subtlety, nuance and understanding is the equivalent of an inability to think. I’d tell them so, but they’d look at me the way a cat would if you tried to tell it how to open a can.
But who cares? When you read their truncated little 140 character missives, you know what they mean, right?
They also fail, generally, to appreciate the recorded art forms that reached their zenith around the middle of the 20th Century, exploiting the wonderful technologies that were perfected prior to the sterile, heartless digital age we suffer through today. It breaks my heart. Presented with an amazing widescreen masterpiece of the cinema, they’re content to watch it, and hear it, on a thing like this:
They don’t even feel the need for a big TV, much less a real theatre with projectors and great big screens and speakers all over. Who cares if it was filmed in 70mm Dolby Surround? Who cares that the cinematographer spent months manipulating the lighting, colour saturation, and contrast? You still get the idea when you watch it on your smart phone. It’s just information, right? So long as you gather enough of the information, and understand what’s going on, what else is there? You’re supposed to care what shade of orange was on screen in that bit when the Sun set?
This tendency to care little for the quality of the experience strikes closest to my heart when it comes to recorded music. You see, I’m an old school audiophile. Dyed in the wool. I came of age at that exciting time when low fidelity mono gave way to glorious high fidelity stereo, when producers like George Martin expanded the realm of the sonically possible, while recording engineers like Geoff Emerick bent every sinew to capture every subtle aspect of the music on fabulous master recorders that worked on tubes, and used analog tape that was a full inch in width, providing fantastic fidelity. Little things, like placing microphones within the studio for best effect, became crucial, the province of those schooled in the Dark Arts. Experiments with multi-tracking, vari-speed, reverb, and so on, were made through painstaking manipulation of incredibly high resolution analog technology. All of this effort was worthwhile because advances in home audio equipment made it possible for the ordinary consumer to hear all that nuance and sound staging right there in the living room.
The machinery available for home audio kept getting better and better, reaching an unbelievable peak in the 1980s. Year over year, I revelled, astonished, in the relentless advances in the state of the art. These fabulous devices submerged you in the sound, you practically swam in it. Every link in the chain, amplifiers, speakers, turntables, CD players, analog and digital recorders, were developed to the point at which they exceeded the listening capacity of the human ear.
It was, for me, a miracle.
Then the darkness descended. Starting as far back as the Walkman, people became obsessed with music they could carry around. Convenience became the overriding value, fidelity be damned. New, sonically inferior, digital formats arrived. With the internet came downloadable files in data-compressed low fidelity codecs like MP3, with music being played on little devices that could store thousands of songs, all of them stripped of as much as 90% of their original data, to be listened to over tinny little earbuds. The iPod reigned supreme. Nobody cared what it sounded like. The younger listeners didn’t even have anything to compare it to. Anyway, it was all just information, right? If you could make out the tune, who cared what it sounded like?
I wonder if the word “stereo” even means anything to anybody younger than 25? You know, as a noun meaning “sound system”. If so, they’re probably associating it with something like this:
Well, kids, that’s not a stereo.
Allow me to draw an analogy. This is a “vehicle”, a “conveyance”, or maybe an “urban mode of transportation”:
This, however, is a car:
And this is a stereo:
Sure, it’s big, bulky, and expensive, and you can’t carry it around with you. God, though, the sound. It envelops you. I just don’t have the words. Just hook it all up to some Bryston amplifiers and B&W speakers, and float downstream.
Once I and the few others like me have finally vanished, I suppose no one will know or care what a beautiful high fidelity stereo recording sounded like when played over a system like that, on one of these:
…or one of these:
My marvellous machines will seem quaint, old fashioned, like cars built in the 1920s. Why keep driving around in a Stutz Bearcat?
Why? Because that old Bearcat kicks unholy ass. People think “newer” means “better”. They think “digital” means “superior”. Neither proposition is true. Old analog reigns supreme. Sure, I have some quite excellent digital machines around here, including both of those pictured above – the elder of which dates from about twenty-five years ago, now, to my horror – but they’re excellent because they come as close as possible to faithfully replicating analog sound. We’re analog creatures, you know; our ears work by analog processes. That little bone vibrating against your ear drum is just like a needle sliding through the grooves of a vinyl record, vibrating when it encounters bumps.
Believe me, you haven’t heard music until you’ve heard it processed through a big, beautiful, analog Nakamichi tape deck, or a nice open reel machine. Even digital sources like CDs sound better once they’ve been recorded on to analog tape and played back through one of these sonic masterpieces. You doubt it? Yeah, well, you don’t know jack. You can bring me any digital player of any kind ever made, and I’ll take the Pepsi Challenge any day, using something like this:
It’s a far cry from tinny little ear buds wired to a frigging iPod.
I’ll be the first to admit, an obsession with black boxes sporting flashing lights can get both expensive and complex. Yes it can. My sound systems are so ludicrously complicated that I need block diagrams just to power them up properly, much like a pilot has a checklist when he straps into a 747 and fires her up. No foolin’. This is the schematic for my main floor stereo:
No, I’m not crazy. I deny that completely. I’m a collector, that’s all. I’m sitting here alone in the bleachers, sadly but steadfastly waving the banner for a lost golden age.
Look, I know I’m the last of my kind. I know that everything I love and believe in will soon sink without a bubble. Time marches on. Things change. Even iPods are on the way out, their function subsumed within the broader capabilities of iPhones! All this technological change, and from where I stand it’s all going sideways, or falling two steps back. Whatever. I’ll be a happy bug in amber. Until I go, I’m sticking with my big black boxes. And who knows? Maybe I underestimate the Millennials, and those that follow them – “Generation Z”, I think they’re called, or “Post-Millennials”. God help me! There are already Post-Millennials! Very well. Good. More chances for a miracle. Maybe among all those new arrivals, some kid, some place, will discover the magic I’m talking about, and understand. A guy can hope.
After all, the listeners of the future will still have the same sort of ears as mine. So, like the man said: those with ears, let them hear.