The world has changed a lot in my lifetime of almost 40 years.
That change is exponentially greater for my parents’ generation.
The question is: how have people changed in that time?
Perhaps I’m looking back with rose-tinted glasses, but here are some personality traits that seem to have fallen out of favor.
When I was young, I used to write letters to pen pals I’d met on family vacations.
I received a monthly newsletter in the post from my favorite band.
If I wanted to find a very particular piece of information, I’d have to visit the local library and search through a few books to find it.
The reality was that few things were instant. And this taught patience because you often had no choice but to wait a while before getting something.
Fast forward to today and I could text or video call a friend I met on vacation, I can get daily updates from bands on social media, and I can use a search engine to get instant answers to my questions.
Everything is available now, or with next day delivery thanks to global e-commerce behemoths.
You don’t need to be as patient, and sometimes it seems like people aren’t.
I’m not talking about the way people dress— what people wear is entirely up to them.
No, I’m talking about modesty in terms of not flaunting your success, your possessions, your wealth.
Society today is all about self-promotion, status, and seeking attention and validation from others, thanks in large part to social media.
Everything is curated to make it seem as though you are living a perfect life. And because of that, life can seem like a competition where winning is everything.
People seem less content to celebrate their wins in a small but meaningful way with people who genuinely care and cheer them on.
The pace of life has certainly sped up a lot since I was a kid. And I’m starting to think that people don’t sit still long enough to take stock of everything they have and be appreciative of it.
Many people—including me more often than I’d like to admit—spend their time stuck in their heads thinking about yesterday’s dramas or tomorrow’s worries.
We’re not living in the now. We’re not taking in the world around us. We’re not feeling grateful for the moment, any moment.
Social media makes us see more of what we don’t have because it gives us greater access into people’s lives. We yearn to have the things we see and become blind to the things that are all around us already.
And things are replaceable in a heartbeat because of the internet. Not just things, either, but people—relationships and friendships can be found on an app, but the danger is we succumb to “grass is always greener” thinking and neglect to see the value of what we’ve got.
Do people give as much of their time and money to good causes as they used to?
It doesn’t feel that way to me.
Instead, it seems many people live with a scarcity mindset despite the wealth of choice and opportunity we have.
This is mostly a comment on those who have plenty but who never seem to feel that they have “enough” for what lies ahead.
And generosity goes beyond charitable giving. It’s about sharing what you do have with friends and neighbors. It’s about helping someone out in their time of need, be it a friend, colleague, or stranger.
There is a lot of good that goes on thanks to the generosity and altruism of some folks, let’s not ignore that. But perhaps it’s not quite what it used to be.
Community spirit certainly hasn’t disappeared. I see plenty of it around.
But I don’t think my generation does nearly as much as my parents’ generation did at the same stage of life.
And some, though not all, younger people seem fairly disconnected from their local communities.
I think part of that comes down to the inter(net)-connectedness of the modern world that gives anyone the ability to find and interact with like-minded people online. The result is that people feel less need to engage with their local community.
Then there is the decline in social structures such as religious institutions. Churches, synagogues, mosques—many of these once tight-knit communities have shrunk in size because younger generations are less likely to want to be a part of them.
Please. Thank you. Excuse me.
Being polite sometimes takes just a few words.
Of course, it’s also about showing courtesy to others and generally acting with respect.
Some people seem to have forgotten how to do these things. The habit of politeness isn’t as common as it once was.
It’s not always that people are overtly rude necessarily—it’s more a lack of manners and thoughtfulness.
Maybe it’s the shift toward digital communication or the rise of individualism and personal expression.
Whatever the cause, it feels to me like you’re less likely to encounter civil behavior these days.
We all have opinions about things. Some people seem to have an opinion about everything.
And most people are more than happy to share their opinions, whether or not they are asked for them.
Too often, people are so attached to their opinions that they refuse to budge even an inch when faced with a contradictory view. They dig in their heels and go on the offensive, seeking to find any cracks in their opponent’s armor.
It’s almost as if to cede ground is to admit that we are in some way wrong or inferior. People hate that.
But to say that we each have imperfect knowledge is an understatement. We each have such tiny amounts of knowledge that to believe ourselves infallible is utterly ridiculous.
If humility has declined, I blame the partisan press and the echo chamber of social media. You can have your views “confirmed” by others 24 hours a day and not have to pay attention to neutral views or views from the other side of the debate.
And social media also allows people to share their opinions and have them validated with likes and comments expressing the same thing.
We’ve forgotten how to listen to others and consider that we might not know every side of the story.
It’s no wonder politics is so polarized.
I think this must be linked to the decline in humility because when you are so sure you are right about something, you are unable to put yourself in another person’s shoes, feel what they feel, or consider their views objectively.
What’s more, there is this growing idea that anyone and everyone can get themselves out of whatever hole they are in by simply trying harder.
This extends from individuals to entire sections of society. The poor are lazy. Those with addictions have no willpower. Those with mental health issues should get a grip.
People are suffering in another part of the world? Not my problem!
This sort of attitude is rife.
Again, individualism plays its part. It’s every person for themselves. Maybe it’s just me, but people seemed more caring when I was growing up.
Half of what you see on social media is not entirely real.
Photos have filters on them. Influencers showcase brands for money but don’t actually use them in their lives. People share a showreel of highlights from their lives that paints a very different picture to reality.
And that’s all fine if you see it for what it is. But most people don’t consider things that way.
They feel this pressure to present a particular version of themselves to the world, prioritizing their reputation over their authentic individuality.
When I think about the people I know who are happiest and most content, they also come across as very genuine and authentic. I am convinced there is a link between the two.
I also think that authenticity is starting to make a comeback as people rebel against the expectations of perfection encouraged by social media and the cult of celebrity.
I was very frugal growing up, then I went through a stage where I splurged a little bit, and now I’m back to being frugal. I have never lived beyond my means.
There is a subset of the population who seems incapable of saving for a rainy day. They spend what they earn and then some thanks to credit cards and loans.
This is 100% not directed at those who live in poverty and who have no choice but to spend everything they earn just to get by. It’s a comment on those who could save but choose not to.
I think part of the problem is the competitive element that is, again, driven by social media. It’s easy to peer into the lives of others, see what they have, and feel like you need to have that too in order to “keep up.”
Then there is the insidious nature of marketing that creeps into every corner of our lives (I understand the irony in having advertising on this page while making this point).
There are so many messages telling people to spend more of their hard-earned money.
It feels to me like too many people kick the can down the road in terms of their future financial security. They’ll worry about it another day. Today they will spend!
I can be resourceful in some respects—when it comes to operating this website for instance—but I’m not when it comes to physical jobs or fixing objects.
And there’s no doubt that many people my age or younger are less resourceful than their parents and grandparents are/were.
It’s easier than ever to find a person or piece of technology to do things that you’d have once had to do yourself. People are less inclined to want to learn how to do something themselves.
Many people look at something that has stopped working and their first thoughts are to get rid of it and buy a new one. It’s easy to see why when modern technology companies build obsolescence into their products.
I’d say that problem-solving skills in general are just not what they once were.
You might think that the internet provides the ideal platform for curiosity to flourish. Information is at our fingertips. We can get answers to our questions whenever and wherever we like.
But I think there is a downside to the internet that many people overlook.
Quite often, we look for the fastest and simplest answer to our questions. We want to feel like we have had our question answered when, in fact, all we do is scratch the surface.
Fewer and fewer people dive deep into a topic and get to know it intimately. This comes back to my first point about patience. People don’t have the patience to discover more about something.
They want the TL;DR version—that’s the “too long; didn’t read” version—where a whole topic is summarized in a few pithy sentences. They can feel informed because they have some tiny grain of knowledge and can reel that off in conversation at a later time.
Sadly, there’s less questioning of things. Fewer whys and hows and whats being asked.
Listen, I’m not suggesting that these personality traits have disappeared. Many people still embody them.
But I do think they are in decline.
And I think that the world loses some of its richness when these traits fall out of fashion.
I’d like to think that the trend can be reversed—that these personality traits will rise up once again and become ingrained in more of society.
How? Of that, I’m not so sure. But I’m going to try to teach my two kids to embrace them at the very least.
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