Let me tell you a little bit about my world.
People fall in love on the Internet. One screen name sends words via electronic signals to another screen name, and the two engage in a courtship marked by lowercase letters and "You've got mail." Should the relationship fail, no fireplaces or trashcans are needed to destroy its remnants--all you have to do is press "delete," and it is gone.
The "real" dating world of people my age is almost as unrecognizable as the virtual one. "Dating" no longer signifies going on dates; it instead defines a relationship that can range from late-night rendezvous to something resembling marriage. In a recent study by the Institute for American Values, sociologists found that "only 50 percent of college women seniors reported having been asked on six or more dates by men since coming to college, and a third of women surveyed said they had been on two dates or fewer." While few women still go to college solely to earn an "M.R.S. degree," most expect at least a taste of what's to come. In the past, men seemed to accept--even enjoy--the opportunity to court the girl they liked; today, if romance does develop, "it is rare for college men É to [even] acknowledge when they have become a couple." The days of going steady are over, and the only "pinning" going on takes place behind closed doors.
We are a generation that has been taught to respect authority--and why shouldn't we? In our lifetime, authority has only treated us well. We hear glorified (and often surreal) stories of our parents' days of rebellion, yet we have a difficult time finding platforms against which to rebel. Except for a few of us, we don't question our rule-makers or sit around plotting their downfall--the consequences would simply be too dire. To be kicked out of college or get an indelible black mark on your permanent record is not worth the temporary satisfaction of proving a point. And yet, there is a sense of longing beneath the surface to stand for something greater; to take more risks; to do something because it is right, not just because it is good. As the foundations we are standing on begin to rock and crumble, perhaps we will find the inspiration we need ...
Most of us have a hard time comprehending "evil." The word's modern replacements are "mentally disturbed" or "psychologically ill." When we read or hear about someone committing an atrocity, we assume that he or she had a bad childhood or has unbalanced brain chemistry--not that he or she is "evil" at heart. With Prozac and psychotherapy becoming norms, we have a hard time comprehending that "evil" is not curable. We have compassion for those struggling with mental disorders, and we have faith that people are fundamentally good.
We have grown up in an era of peace and prosperity. The Gulf War occurred when we were 8 or 9 years old. We have been well-provided-for by our Baby Boomer parents, and we have been taught that self-esteem and love are all we need to survive. Some people tell us that we are apathetic. Yet it is not apathy as much as an inability to comprehend. Until now war has existed in our collective consciousness as movies and legends; war as a reality is still almost impossible to grasp.
Yet for those that worry about my generation for any of these reasons, take comfort in the fact that we are a generation of optimists. We have faith in goodness. We have faith in the future. We have grown up in an era where virtually anything seems possible. We live in a world in which the idea of human inequality is considered ignorant, and in which advancement in human ability is truly awe-inspiring. Our belief that the world is good and just extends past naivete; it is a self-fulfilling prophecy in whose outcome we are confident.
Danielle Friedman, 21, is a senior majoring in English at Duke. She is an intern this semester at The Independent.