Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Do We Have it Harder than our Parents? Part I

Our generation never gets enough criticism. We’re lazy, older people say. We’ve never worked a hard day in our lives. We play too many video games, spend too much time on Tumblr and Twitter and Instagram and Google+. We’d rather Facebook chat with our friends than go over to their house or call them on the phone. We can do all our research sitting on our butts searching Google instead of going down to the library and, God forbid, actually cracking open a book. It never used to be like this in the good old days (every generation has their mythical “good old days” that were never actually good, but that they cling to anyway).

But are we actually lazy? Do we really have it easier? This week I’ll make the argument that no, we don’t have it easier. Our lives are more complicated in myriad ways that our parents can’t appreciate. Life in the modern world is faster and rapidly changing, fuelled by technological progress and too much caffeine and a struggle for individuality in a vast homogenous cruel society.

The cost of tuition has risen astronomically. Rob Carrick in the Globe and Mail writes, “In 1984, my final undergraduate year of university, tuition cost more or less $1,000. I earned that much in a summer without breaking a sweat….Today, financial self-sufficiency is impossible without taking breaks from school to work.” Carrick’s $1,000 tuition would be $2,028 today if we merely count inflation. Yet the average tuition fees in Canada is $5,366.

A report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows that since 1990, tuition for undergraduates has risen by 6.2% annually—three times the rate of inflation. It estimates that fees will rise to $9,231 in Ontario in four years.

The Montreal tuition protests show a generation
sick of the rising costs of education
Taking into account the tough economy, the scarcity of jobs for young people, and the high cost of housing in Toronto, no undergraduate students can pay their own tuition while living on their own without going enormously into debt. The bleak economics that face modern students is nothing to take lightly.

Both graduate and undergraduate programs are rising in competitiveness as well. A paper by Statistics Canada links the current strain on the postsecondary education system to children of the Baby Boom generation growing up (soon, our children will begin a similar strain on the public school system).

Getting into a good university is tougher, but we’ve already survived this. It will be getting into graduate programs and scrambling for jobs after university that’ll be the hard part. For example, compared to ten years ago, the spots in U of T’s medical school have stayed about the same (even dipping significantly 1993-2010), while the number of applicants has risen by 50%.

Finally, a news article from 1969 hilariously illustrates the rising complexity of modernity. Students “are much better educated over a much wider field than ever before,” reads the article. “They must absorb a much wider range of knowledge at a much higher level. They are taught to question more. They have more developed views about things… Things are not good just because they are said to be good. In a world where ideologies conflict, the more intelligent young people want to know why our way of life is better.”
Social media glues our generation together
in a way foreign to our parents

The brief popularity of Ron Paul that showed an impatience with old partisan politics, the rise of internet slacktivism, questions of anonymity and privacy in the internet age, climate change, drones replacing soldiers on the battlefield, the Arab Spring, the rise of social media and alienation—young people are faced with issues that we can’t just Google our way out of. Perhaps we are even more in tune to the world than our parents were, with tweets and voices and opinions electronically bombarding us every moment of our day.

In short, we are nothing to scoff at. The tech generation moves through phases and information at a speed that would both frustrate and astound our parents. Modern life is more rapid and complex than ever before, and it’s older people, not us, that will be left behind.

Check back next week for Part II: Why we have it easier than our parents did.


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