The biological inevitability of generation gaps
Generation gaps are real. Teenagers will never be best buddies with their parents, because their bodies don’t allow it. We are still slaves to our biology, however much our intellects might wish to deny it. Infancy, childhood, adolescence and old age are all biologically definable stages, and they affect our brain chemistry as much as any other part of our body. What affects our brain chemistry, affects our thinking and changes our ability to empathise and relate to others.
The is a reality we cannot escape, but can only work around as we seek to understand where gaps between the generations lie – and how we can work around or through them.
Let’s take a seemingly trivial example: last week the private social network Path released some figures it had drawn from the aggregate social data of its users. Path encourages people to mark when the go to sleep and when they wake up as part of a running stream of what they’re doing each day. As Path also knows users’ ages, that means they can spot trends:
The older sleep less time. Now, Path’s age range isn’t particularly wide here – we’re just about covering two generations if you go to the extremes. The trend line, though, is clear. Sleep decreases with age – and I’m sure many of us have anecdotal memories of grandparents who were always up with the larks, because their need for sleep was massively decreased.
However much we might seek to heal the gaps in generations, some of them are inevitable. Ageing is a biological process that we can’t escape (yet, at least). And that process means that we have different bodies at different stages of our lives.
There are defining points in people’s biological existence that cannot be denied, avoided or postponed. Women have defined child-bearing years, which end. Teenagers go through changes in their circadian rhythms that make it hard for them to get out of bed – even as their parents need for sleep decreases. Now wonder they clash… Our hearing changes over time, leading to a different appreciation of music.
Our bodies are inherently generational – and those phases we pass through affect out intellect, our interests and our peer groups.
One of the baselines of dealing with prejudice, with societal expressions of difference, is to respect those differences, but still treat people as equal. Men and women are different – but equally. People have different sexual orientations, but one should not been seen as “right” and another “wrong”.
Equally, any discussion of generation gaps needs to respect the genuine difference between people of different ages be they biological, or the natural expression of more time having passed: creativity and rebellion, versus wisdom and experience. Passion versus measured judgement. Parenthood versus grandparenthood. Equal, but different.
Anything else sees us straying into agism.