My Generation

Begin with the assumption that the world is beautiful, that people are trying, that things aren’t easy for anyone. We are all here for the same reasons, to live, and love, and find meaning in the things we do. But the world is big and complex, and rarely do things happen as we expect them to. It’s all we can do to try and see patterns and then articulate them as best we can. As a species we are fundamentally dependent on abstraction as a means of communication, from the simplest forms of language to the most complex physics formulas explaining the scope of the universe. It is essential to being human, the experience of sharing with others the mental models by which we’ve come to understand our being. We know the basic limitation of our communication is that in order to convey the complexity we perceive, we must first reduce it to a mere shadow of itself, a symbol, a sound, a diagram, a map.

It is the great work of humanity to communicate this beautiful model of the vast complexity we perceive, each generation building on what came before. While our understanding of it all may be no greater than that of our ancestors, our knowledge of the collective human experience is incomparably more grand. We each are overwhelmingly privileged to have access to the conclusions of billions of people’s experiences. This is the world we were given. It may be practically quite similar to the world that came before, but in terms of our collective model of the world, everything is unfathomably more complex than it’s ever been.

We are standing on the shoulders of giants, and yet when we look back at the generations that preceded us a strange contempt comes over us. We resent their seemingly oversimplified, even ignorant frameworks, and their dogmatic axiomatic beliefs. How could we not? This is the lens we’ve been given. We can imagine how much better things might be, and if not, we can at least see quite clearly how bad things are. But this is all quite natural, because how could we contribute to the model without questioning the assumptions that our less informed predecessors made? We couldn’t.

We are living in a moment of radical reframing, a revolution of sorts, where the old king refuses to concede that the system he built was based on biased or limited information. We’ve all been short-sighted because to this point our projections into the future have assumed that the patterns that have brought us to this point will continue on, but in fact the only thing that is absolutely certain about the future is that it will be quite unlike the present. In spite of this, we face a generational clash, where we stand with our kickstarter and facebook and twitter revolutions, standing tall to the baby-boomers, who largely reject the drastic changes that are happening, and fetishize the incremental advancements that generate growth but don’t challenge existing structures. They think these things too will pass, but this is only the beginning. Just as they fought the generation before them for a healthy planet, for equal rights, for progress in leaps and bounds, they will hold the throne as long as they can, and will eventually drift into an arcane past.

So instead of turning to the boomers and criticizing them for the unsustainable consumerist lifestyle they’ve given us, we should be patient and focus on our own projects, because the tides are turning.

The greatest change for our generation will be the breakdown of disciplines. It’s already happening, much to the chagrin of those who take comfort from definite titles. Increasingly the title we ascribe ourselves, designer, businessman, consultant, scientist, artist, do not define our day to day activities so much as our methods, the applications of which are unconstrained. We no longer seek to be the archetype of a specific profession, but to find a niche convergence of previously incompatible disciplines.

So it is in all our best interests to quickly get comfortable in the face of this complexity. We can no longer look to precedent to find each our own niche. Instead we must rely on our ability to recognize patterns and use imagination to find our place in the emerging world.

By seeking patterns within the tides of change, we may stay on the verge of fashion and anticipate new opportunities to innovate. Possibly even more importantly, it may give us the insight to often revisit our own frameworks, allowing us to remain resilient in the face of continuous change.

As disciplines break down and blend into a beautiful mess, imagination and creativity will cease to be relegated to some fields and not others. Imagination will be an absolute necessity for anyone seeking to define themselves. In this context, imagination is the ability to dream, to speculate in living color, or to conjure an image in one’s mind’s eye. Creativity then is the articulation of that, whether in words, colors, sounds, movements, or in whatever medium to which one is inclined. Creativity then is how we contribute to the grand model of complexity we’ve been building as a species.

It’s all not that simple though in practicality, because what we’re talking about is recognizing or imagining something incomprehensible and attempting to present it in reality. The main challenge in such an undertaking is working across multiple scales. We’ve strived to model our reality from the very largest of patterns (from space to metaphysics), to the smallest of patterns (from chemistry to quantum physics), and everything in between (from mass transit to health). From imagination into the future one minute ahead, five days ahead, fifty years ahead, 400 years ahead, and into the past too. It’s all using the same muscle. Imagine life in another place or another reality or you are something else or nothing else, or a state of being in which there is nothing to be else from. It is truly vast and endless.

Without imagination, we are stuck in this reality, pulled by impulses. A place never conceived of because it is the unconscious byproduct of 7 billion individual lives with the simple goals each to fuck and eat and have fun and find meaning. While we all look down at our hands wondering what the meaning is, we are unable to see our profound superspecies from above, massive and triumphant, strong and vibrant, resilient and intelligent, proud and comfortable and in love. We are only cells of a larger body, but we are important cells each of us. The challenge then is to retain conviction in our work, that it not be manipulative but rather proactive, engaging, and intentional.