2020: A Cautionary Tale?

A mere hundred years ago, after the somber shock of the first world war, mankind was about to enter an era known as “The Roaring Twenties.” And they really roared! With more disposable income than ever before, folks in First World countries had options their grandparents could never have even imagined. Everything changed in a remarkably short span of time: music, fashion, entertainment, accessibility to mind-altering substances, new freedoms for women (including the right to vote in some states), access to comforts, and much more. It was, in short, an era when everything was novel (and therefore provided a big hit of dopamine, making the brain call for “More, more!”), and the world was literally and figuratively on a high. But by 1929, the roaring and endless partying had turned into a different situation entirely. The total financial crash that brought on the Great Depression meant that for over ten years, mere subsistence was nearly impossible for the majority of families.

An illustration of people dancing at a party during the roaring 20s

Those of us who had parents or grandparents who grew up during that era may remember a strange, sweet nostalgia coming over their faces as they remembered coming of age during the roaring twenties. Secret, mischievous smiles that they were reluctant to share because the memories were too precious, too personal. However, they were equally as reluctant to share the horrors of the reversals of all their dreams as they endured the harsh privations of the Depression.

If they were alive today, our forebears wouldn’t even recognize the planet we live on as we enter our new decade.  The gratifications and dopamine triggers available to their generation were nothing compared with what assaults the senses of folks today. The segue has once again been quite brief: Generation X enjoyed fast food, Millennials fast entertainment, but Generation Z has only known instant everything. Instant information. Instant entertainment. Instant communication. And above all, instant gratification. Unlike their parents, they don’t hang out at malls. They shop and socialize online. While there’s still a bit of debate about the exact dates, most agree that Gen Z comprises the 2.25 billion people born between 1990 and 2010. That’s a quarter of the US population, readers! And they’re so habituated to a constant glut of information (and more importantly, to its ease of acquisition) that one study listed their average attention span as 8.25 seconds, which is less than that of a goldfish.

A mother, father, and daughter sit on a couch, each looking at a phone, tablet, or laptop and not interacting with each other.

So here’s a parent’s conundrum: Gen Z makes up the older siblings, babysitters, tutors, role models, and idols of this generation’s elementary and middle school kids. Designated Generation Alpha, these individuals were born after 2010, and they look up to and want to be like their slightly older heroes. The conveniences that are expected (even demanded) by Gen Z will also be expected by Gen A. And while no one I know of is making dire financial prognostications for our next ten or so years, it might be interesting to experiment, as a family, with taking even brief steps away from our instant gratification devices like phones, tablets, and streaming devices, for something like, say, conversation. A meal together. Reading aloud together. You’ll be glad you did.

Cardboard Box Adventures picture books are great for shared reading and can help parents establish a strong pre-literacy foundation for their children. Check out the CBA Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators.

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