In his book Mediated, Thomas de Zengotita discussed the postmodern world of media saturation that we live in, pointing out that we are “immersed in options, surrounded by representations–and driven by it all to unprecedented levels of self-consciousness.” Transitioning from a chapter on childhood to one about adolescence, the author observes that childhood emerged as a category in the 16th or 17th century because kids in the higher classes were able to take a few years to “learn to be adults” before joining the workforce. But in the middle of last century, this other category emerged: adolescence. The teenager. De Zengotita theorizes that the the more elaborate popular culture becomes, the more images and ideas we have to wade through, the longer it takes to complete the process of becoming an adult. He finishes the chapter with this whammy:

If you’re in your mid-twenties, even pushing thirty and you’re not married, or coupled up in a serious way, and you’re still hanging with your crew, and you still spend serious time playing video games—then I don’t have to tell you how long adolescence can last. People used to get married in their teens and became grandparents at forty. So what’s taking us so long to grow up? Well, there is so much more to absorb…but there are also so many different ways to be, so many different lifestyles, so many different versions of the world. Haunted by the possibility of buyer’s remorse, we dawdle on the brink, trying this, trying that. Options.

Thomas de Zengotita,

Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It

Yikes, I feel like de Zengotita just read my mail. Except for the video games part. But dude, I feel like I only recently convinced myself (with a little help from my friends, of course) that mid-twenties is not that old, and I’m actually not quite a candidate for spinster-hood yet. Then you’ve got de Zengotita calling me out! Maybe this is why I feel slightly perturbed when my group of late 20s, early 30s friends can go out for a late drink on a weeknight because none of them have jobs that require an early start the next morning…


One thought on “Busted

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  1. or perhaps some of us have jobs that require an early start, but we go out for the occasional late drink on a weeknight because hey, we are NOT that old yet, so why not?

    but i see your, and de zengotita’s (whose name i keep wanting to spell “zengitota” for some reason), point. i agree that there is an aspect of delayed adolescence in our culture, but to me the biggest manifestation of that is not that we play video games, or “hang with our crew.” i think it’s that we cannot commit to anything easily. and the reason we can’t commit is not simply because there are so many options, but because our culture teaches us that keeping options open is a benefit. you say yes to this, you are saying no to that. and we are so very bad at saying no!

    so then i wonder if the reason for delayed adolescence is really how much there is to absorb more than it is what we are absorbing. every aspect of our culture, from literature to music to television to movies to advertising (the latter in all of its hydra-esque forms), is throwing stuff at us to convince us that we ought to be trying all these different ways and not boxing ourselves into, well, a box.

    what de zengotita is saying in the snippet you quoted here is akin to bemoaning, say, the overwhelming quantity of books being published these days, when it isn’t really the quantity that is the problem; it’s what the stories themselves teach us about how we ought to live and be.

    a fine line, perhaps, but i think it’s an important difference. so a more interesting question to me (and perhaps de zengotita goes into this in further detail in the rest of the book?) is, what shifted in our cultural worldview that caused us to see some of the characteristics of adolescence (i.e., no commitment, no need for sacrifices, taking time to “find ourselves”, etc) as worth prolonging?


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