One afternoon at the zoo, as my kids and I walked around from one enclosure to the next, I observed a grandfather with his three-year-old granddaughter. I could tell that he was a grandparent, because he doted on the little girl, giving her his undivided attention as though her musings were pearls of wisdom which should be chiseled into stone tablets. I know, I know, you can call me jealous all that you want, but every parent knows that the grandparent-grandchild relationship is basically a sycophantic one.
My jaded dissension aside, I marveled at the way in which the two of them interacted; never once did the grandfather become bored and/or impatient at his granddaughter’s endless stream of queries (most of which could have been reduced down to the ubiquitous “Why?”). Meanwhile, I was simultaneously trying to keep my two-year-old son from climbing into each and every enclosure (“I am going to pet the monkey”) while pleading with my five-year-old daughter take off her jellied, Frozen high-heeled shoes (“Daddy, princesses do not wear running shoes”). I do not know if the grandfather was following me through the exhibits, or if I was following him, but I do know that the juxtaposition between his family and mine was thrust in front of my face for about forty-five minutes.
Then, we came to the hippopotamuses.
As many of you are well aware, the hippopotamus exhibit is generally about as exciting as watching paint dry. Occasionally, you might see a hippo raise its head out of the water, blink, and then lower its head again, but for the most part, it is a good place to eat your lunch… which is exactly what we started to do. Just as I was corralling my son (“Hippos like bananas”), one of the hippos opened his mouth wide open, and by wide, I mean that the lower jaw and top jaw were nearly 180 degrees apart from each other. At that exact moment, another hippo opened his jaws equally as wide… and the two of them rammed their mouths together with unbridled fury. Over and over, the water churned as the behemoths reared back, dug in, and launched themselves at one another with such explosive violence that I feared that the glass enclosure might crack at the seams.
I could tell that all of this was indeed impressive, because when the aforementioned granddaughter asked her grandfather “What do hippos eat?”, he replied, “Let’s just be quiet for a little bit.” Exactly. I, too, was completely mesmerized by the awesome display.
At some point during my gawking, I happened to look over at my eighteen-year-old stepdaughter and her friend… who were on their iPhones. What in the everloving hell were they doing!?! Not more than ten feet in front of them (separated by a foot of glass) was the most jaw-dropping manifestation of nature that any civilian has ever witnessed… and these two Millennials were on their cellphones. The word ‘ballistic’ does not really do my temperament justice, but it is pretty darn close. Regardless, even their self-absorption could not ruin this moment. I had hit the jackpot, and my other two kids and I were going to enjoy every single second of the “hippo wrestling” (copyrighted by my son).
As we left the exhibit, I glanced towards the two teenagers glued to their phones, and (smartly) decided to wait a little while before interacting with them. About two enclosures later, I could hear them talking:
“I already have fifty likes from my pic.”
“Totes… everyone loves the hippo-battle video that I posted.”
Then, it hit me: their interactions with the world are simply different than mine. What I mistook for indifference was actually their (skewed) version of enjoyment. To be more clear, they were not looking at their iPhones because they were disinterested; just the opposite. They were posting their experience on social media, because they were in fact fascinated by what they had just witnessed. Now, I do not claim to understand the obsession with ‘sharing’ a moment with hundreds of people who are not actually there with you, but like it or not, it is indeed how Millennials interact with one another. And, if I am going to live in their world (it will be theirs before we know it), I have to acknowledge the fact that they are simply different than I am. (Note: I have acknowledged it, but my acceptance of it has yet to come to fruition).
Which brings us to this week’s most topical Millennial: Antonio Brown.
In the locker room, after the Steelers defeated the Chiefs, instead of listening to Mike Tomlin’s post-game speech, Antonio Brown pulled out his cellphone and started to post a live video feed of himself. It is bad enough that he was being disrespectful of his head coach, but what is worse is that he allowed outsiders to hear Tomlin’s speech… which was intended for Steelers players only.
Those who have any intellect already know that what Tomlin stated was nothing reprehensible; similar words have been uttered in every single locker room across the NFL. In fact, I am actually surprised that more expletives were not used. Cutting to the chase, Tomlin’s words are truly no big deal (despite what Patriots fans might be telling you). Conversely, Antonio Brown breaking the trust of his team is indeed something which needs to be dealt with.
That said, put down your pitchforks.
Remember now, we are dealing with a Millennial… a Millennial who is paid millions of dollars by sponsors to do Millennial things (selfies) in a Millennial manner (Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook). For those of you who do not know what those apps are, they are the latest way for a person to post an electronic picture of their breakfast for their thousand closest friends to see and respond to. Really. That is not an embellishment.
Regardless of the Millennial culture that has arisen, what Brown did was wrong, and in turn, there will be repercussions. That said, before we demand that he be benched (not going to happen in a playoff game) or traded (overreaction), let us look at it from the perspective that Millennials truly think differently than those of us over the age of thirty. We, the Fogies, are digital immigrants; we had to learn how to use a cellphone. Conversely, Millennials are digital natives, and thus, they grew up thinking, speaking, and interacting through technology. Think of it as a second language: Fogies have to “translate” their thoughts into a text, tweet, or post; whereas, for Millennials, those thoughts naturally flow through those mediums.
But, again, this act was wrong… and needs to be dealt with.
The way that I would approach it is how I deal with my two-year-old son. He does all sorts of stuff that boggles my mind, but I am patient with him, because there is usually no malice; he simply does not know better. For example, my son once put toothpaste on his toothbrush and brushed the teeth of his sister’s stuffed Elsa doll. In other words, he truly did not see that what he was doing was wrong, but it assuredly was. So, I explained it to him in terms that he can understand… and then, we moved on.
Likewise, Antonio Brown does all sorts of stuff that boggles our old minds, but Tomlin should be patient with him, because there is usually no malice; Brown simply does not know better. He truly did not see that what he was doing was wrong, but it assuredly was. So, Tomlin should explain it to Brown in terms that he can understand… and then, move on.
Now, if you will excuse me, I need to to go SnapChat with my wife about what we are going to have for dinner… so that I can then Instagram a picture of that meal to all of my followers. Hmmm, I am not sure if I need to be wearing a beanie (it is not really cold)… ugh… I will wear one just in case. Lates!!!