Reading Paddy’s recent Op-Ed, ‘The Self-Entitled Generation’, I found myself agreeably nodding along to most of the points. Unfortunately, it does seem there’s a lot of negativity online in our community, and I concur that not everyone should be entitled to their crappy opinion. But there was one big sticking point for me: framing this as a generational issue. Calling us the ‘Self-Entitled Generation’ might suit that time-old narrative that the youth is tearing down the pillars of our culture – in this case cars – but I think the problem may have another origin.
No doubt this whole scene has changed rapidly in the last few years with visually arresting trends like stance, JDM and widebody-everything having shot to prominence. Today, car enthusiasts are more likely to gather around a Facebook page than they are a carpark, and that’s not to mention the perplexing rise of the ‘Insta-famous’ car enthusiast, who treat cars as little more than a vessel for selling stickers for their ‘lifestyle brand’. I don’t think either of these examples will be looked back on fondly by enthusiasts of the future, but I do think they are a direct result of the rise of digital media within the worldwide car community.
I believe the same culprit may be behind what Paddy laments as those young people who believe they are the centre of the universe – authors of those comments that ruthlessly cut down another’s automotive pride and joy.
So called ‘social’ media is the vessel for much of this vitriol. This digital medium does its best to emulate face-to-face communication, but I have to wonder if its imperfections are the real culprit here, not the generation who has grown up not only using but often inventing these tools. It’s easy to insult or criticise one another from behind a computer screen – distance gives a sense of safety, perhaps – but put the same people in a room together and I doubt you’d hear anything of the sort. For the record, I’ve seen plenty of abuse and misinformation from older blokes, but thankfully it seems most of them are still working out how to work this internet machine. We live in a rare time where any person’s brief moment of stupidity can be captured and broadcast to the world, so let’s not forget that we’re all human and we all say dumb s**t from time to time.
But it does get worse. The social media feeds that determine what content we are served are run on algorithms that are making us stupid. By their very nature, they favour the lowest common denominator – items that appeal to the largest amount of people. These get boosted into everyone’s newsfeeds while ideas that are challenging or too subtle silently languish. We end up being exposed to the same cars or styles over and over again until the impressionable fools are convinced there is no other way, and the mavericks of car culture are left completely disillusioned. A quick look at some of the folk trying to ‘break the internet’ at events such as SEMA only confirms the descent into this odd mush of imitated individuality. You’ll also see car enthusiasts dividing themselves down digital lines – forums for stance lovers, Facebook groups for Honda drivers and so on – the net effect being individuals who only see what they want to and thus limit their exposure to other ways of enjoying cars. There is no right or wrong when it comes to car modification, we’re all in it for fun. If you disagree with that statement, it’s time for some self-reflection. All the while, we are being drugged by the constant stream of likes, comments and shares firing hits of dopamine into our brains. The addicts are easy to spot – every post is a perfect mix of ‘look at my car/body/money’ and ‘inspirational quote garbage’. I’ll stop short of issuing a public health warning, but I would like to place a large bet on the announcement in 2030 that the world’s first ‘notification addiction’ rehab clinic has opened, and they charge per follower…
But, back to our generation. Many have called us self-entitled, and I think that’s unfair. Those who point the finger were likely raised in a world where a man’s dream was a house, a family and a car (nicer than his neighbour’s, if possible). The American/Australian/whatever dream actually existed and was, with a bit of hard work, obtainable. Now, the dream is dead. The house/car/family isn’t enough, we’re not just compared to our neighbour, but the whole damn world! It’s impossible to be materially satisfied when culture moves so fast that your latest purchase is outdated before you can even wear it in. They were raised in a world where cars were made of metal, and built in the same country you drove it in. We grew up in a world where manufacturing was offshored to the lowest bidder and were told physical labour was detestable. What does that do to values? Who does that leave us with for heroes? Not mustachioed men who build their own car and race it, just self-obsessed socialites who have mastered the art of selling their image to the most cashed-up brand.
Sure, there’s some entitled fools among us, but there’s idiots in every generation. A famous quote attributed to Plato goes, “Wise men speak because they have something to say, fools speak because they have to say something.” Nowhere could this be more true than on social media.
The hard-working, grateful and honest among us are simply less inclined to throw our comments into the ring until we have something of true value to add. You won’t even find the real enthusiasts behind a computer screen on a Sunday morning. You’ll find them helping a mate wrench in a garage, working overtime to save for their project, or driving a favourite road. Maybe that’s why their voices seem so absent on the internet. If you’re spending more time online than with cars, regardless of age, are you really a car enthusiast?