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Millennial dilemmas

Do human beings have to dream in binary?

It’s always difficult for any one of us to cope when the narrative of our lives takes a turn away from the straight that we hope it stays on. Starting something new, or bringing an old dream back from the backburner, is daunting. Especially for people of my age — the millennials.

In college we have an Entrepreneurship Cell, a body of students who promote ideas of starting-up and innovation. They would often emphasise that all one needed was an idea. A spark of inspiration that would help us get over that middling bump of mediocrity. But then, what I find is that we become constrained because we allow ourselves to become products of our time.

The news has always been predicated on informing the consumer. It speaks of — apart from the day’s most significant upheavals — the best and the worst that humanity has managed to accomplish each day. This includes the medal-winners, the laureates, the record-breakers, the deal-makers and the criminals, the villains, the corrupt. The news regales us with the highlights, a reel of the most provoking ones that made it into a window of a half-an-hour.

But there is little space at all for most of us — the average consumer who is, by extension, an average human being. Essentially there is nothing that we can relate to in the news. This is not something new.

For the digital natives, though, such a polarity in the news they consume has some effects. An entire generation that turned 13 in the mid-2000s suddenly found itself in possession of spaces that were extraordinarily personal. There was, quite literally, a race to have an account on Facebook, Orkut and the rest. They felt like our own little patches in the great fields of the Internet. Everything that was important in life, it seemed, was happening there.

And it was all ‘yours’, figuratively. Only on your feed did you get to see what friends were up to. It is on your wall that memories are filed away, and it is on your timeline that the carefully curated external image that you project to others, exists. It is in your photos that you and your friends are tagged in, and which warrant much discussion, even outside of the online bubble.

We often feel, in such an environment, that our social sphere revolves around us. We can see, in quantitative values — the number of likes, re-posts, shares — the interest garnered by anything created by us. This makes social interaction slightly more clinical, when we start to think of it in number terms. It becomes easier to see it in visual terms, rather than emotive cues. And when that happens we are motivated to reveal only those parts of ourselves that we know will trigger a considerable quantitative response.

It gives us the notion that there is something to live up to, even though there isn’t. And as the line between news from friends and news from the rest of the world slowly blurs, it

becomes worse. A Pew research study from 2016 says 62 per cent of adults in the U.S. now receive their daily news from social media. That’s quite a lot.

People are now either exposed to the very best of their inner circle and the world, or to the worst — articles that look to shock, to provoke rage and put a lens on everything that is wrong with the world. Imperceptibly, it goes unsaid that often these pieces of ‘news’ fail to actually provide a constructive solution. The effect of such a disparity leads to the same effect as news of TV and newspapers — a feeling that what we see does not reflect our lives.

We see a binary world — one that is either below contempt itself, or one that is at an unscalable height for us to reach. When we start thinking of ourselves in this binary frame of measurement, the crux of the issue comes up. Starting something new — enlisting in a start-up, writing, playing an instrument, competing in sports or creating art — becomes a dream that requires considerable effort and time. Sometimes pure talent isn’t enough to get you where you need to be. Often we start out as ‘average’, only to get better as we gain experience.

Take the late Leonard Cohen. In an interview he gave The New Yorker just months before his death, he recalled a conversation with Bob Dylan. The latter had asked him about his song ‘Hallelujah’. He wanted to know how long Cohen had taken to write it, to which Cohen replied, ‘two years’. It had, in reality, taken him five. In turn, Cohen asked Dylan how long it took him to write ‘I and I’.

“Fifteen minutes,” came the reply from the future laureate.

Cohen felt averse to revealing what could be perceived as the gap in talent between him and Dylan in an age when the Internet did not exist. Today our time of expected progress has shrunk to doing a refresh of a page.

The reason is a fear that we will not automatically find ourselves in that higher echelon of posts and achievements that get so many likes and reposts — a sign of success and appreciation in our binary outlook. A darker worry also exists at the back of our mind. What if we end up in the other group — an object of ridicule, derided as another in a long list of failures and embarrassments that go viral for all the wrong reasons?

It’s instructive to listen to Cohen again at this point. In the same interview he says, “That’s just the way the cards are dealt.” Dylan may have won a Nobel, but it was Cohen who enjoyed a longer period of acclaim and musical relevance.

We are all inherently different, and are each defined by the experiences we choose to put ourselves through. Just because the online world exists in a binary state it should not mean we should look at our lives in such a sense as well. Living and thinking in superlatives can lead us to give up on many ventures before they even have a change to become full-fledged. That’s a shame because that deprives the world of so much potential. More importantly, it denies us the chance to find something that fulfils and gives meaning to our lives, something millennials have complained about extensively.

Lost in the irony, though, is the reason we joined social media in the first place — to feel less alone in a world that is evermore lonesome now.

abinesh1995wri@gmail.com

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 3:36:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/article16979234.ece

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