The Life of “I”

Posted: December 28, 2010 by Anindya Dutta in individuality, life, marriage
Tags: , ,

A few days back a close friend of mine went through a nightmarish turmoil when she came to know that her family had unearthed (and quite ingeniously, I must say!!!) that she was dating someone from a different caste/religion. In order to ensure that this post does not brew any fresh trouble for her, let’s call this friend of mine Ayesha for the sake of anonymity. As I saw Ayesha struggle to deal with constant family pressures as she patiently tried to cajole her parents into acceptance, I wondered as to why there seemed to be swathes of unfathomable differences between Ayesha and her elders. I mean, let’s face it. Ayesha’s case is no exception to the rule, though she does tend to deviate from the mean quite often (For starters, she did NOT like Dabangg!!!). The fact is that there are several such Ayeshas in this world who are rebelling against parents for a variety of reasons – marriage, career, dressing styles, friends, alcohol and so on. Also there seems to be enough evidence to suggest that this concern does not affect any one gender more than the other, highlighting the universality of the problem.

This “generation gap”, as many of us more commonly know this phenomenon as, has often raised several socio-cultural questions and many a reason has been advocated for the generation divide from time to time. My approach to addressing the issue is, however, slightly contrarian in nature. Rather than trying to address why people belonging to our parents’ generation do not understand us, I ask – Why is it that people of our generation don’t want to comply more often with their parents’ wishes? Why is it that we swear to love our boyfriends/girlfriends till death do us apart, even when we know that our parents will never agree? Why is it that a little black dress will always be a part of a girl’s wardrobe, despite her knowing that her parents will never approve? And even when we do comply, why is it that we never go down without a fight?

The answer, in my opinion, is a result of a rapid change in the way individuals perceive themselves in today’s world. Every second of our existence, we have come to believe that we are the center of the universe with the sun, the moon and the stars all strutting their stuff at various points of the day vying for our undivided attention. Eugenicists will tell you that part of the smugness comes from the belief that we are genetically a superior human race than our parents. But, a more believable hypothesis in my opinion is that this sense of individual superiority has been driven by business practices over the last two-three decades.

It all began when operations researchers went to work on the entire philosophy of “mass customization” a couple of decades back. For the uninitiated, mass customization was the ever unachievable Holy Grail of operations management where you produce goods and services for the masses but ensure a high degree of customization which meets every individual’s idiosyncratic needs. After all, what use is a vintage Black Ford when I want a bright yellow truck with a dash of bright red and with “PussyWagon” written all over it? (Remember Kill Bill, eh?) Well in the world of mass customization – you asked for it and you almost always got it!

Advertisers world over then took this one step further. Ever wondered what is common to “Because you are worth it” (L’Oreal), “Have it your way”(Burger King), “Where do you want to go today?” (Microsoft) and “Express Yourself” (Airtel)? Ya, right. The word – “YOU”. And these are only a few examples of advertisement taglines which have made no pretences in making the individual the sole focal point of their attention over the last two decades. Pepsi’s concept of Youngistaan, MTV and Channel V’s continuous infatuation with creating a separate youth culture, and Bollywood’s spanky new obsession with glorifying rebellion in our generation (3 Idiots, Rang de Basanti, Saathiya etc.) have created a heady cocktail fuelling our aspirations and ambitions today where words like “I”, “Me” and “Myself” have exalted status. Such is the nature and pull of this newfound obsession glorifying the individual that even bellwether Apple introduced the “i” in its product names (the iMacs, iPads, iPods, iTunes etc.) to emphasize the importance of individuality  – a reflection of the times we live in these days.

Although it is tough to say whether this trend bodes well for us or not, a large part of the friction between our parents’ generation and our generation is due to this emphasis on “I” which manifests itself in our refusal to compromise on most issues. The truth cannot be denied that we live in a world where every second of the day we are made to believe that our wants and needs are of prime importance and that the right to choose our own lifestyles is not negotiable. It is this sense of liberation and the romanticism which accompanies this sense which makes us want more for ourselves.

But, isn’t this good news? Isn’t that exactly what we are here for? For ourselves, honestly aren’t we worth it?

Well only time will tell. As of now, I do feel amused when I wonder how it will be like standing on the other side of the discussion responding to our children’s views on life several years from now, as they tear their hair apart wondering why their parents are not more rational and understanding!

The author sighs and signs off!

  1. Rahul Maddy says:

    Which side of the fence do you sit on Andy? 🙂
    by the way, i think the sense of individuality is the driver of business practice and not the other way around. If you look at the history of this move from the establishment to the individual, the base was laid back in the Kennedy era. The following events in the 60s and 70s were there for all to see. Coming to business practice, i think the next big thing after the mass customization is open source optimization where options are not just producer generated but user generated. No sighs for where the world is headed, as long as the world is heading somewhere!

  2. Rajiv_Bhaatu says:

    Right through evolution, living beings have had to choose between survival of the fittest or being a part of the group to survive. To stick to the former, one has had to face challenges of being innovative, being in control, make decisions and a vision for a better future, while for the latter one had to just move with the flow. Historically, there have been individuals and leaders who have changed the perceptions of a whole generation. The unifying spirit of these ‘I”s was that these people believed in something very deeply and had the conviction to go for their dreams, the results were at times were good (Einstein, Tagore, Gandhi) and at times not so (Hitler, Shah Jahan, Tughlaq, Bush!).

    Marketing, a synonym for creating an illusion is rampantly using the word “I” to get everyone to believe that they can change and do things their own way. The problem arises here. Without any belief, courage or conviction, people have taken up with flag of “I” and started marching. When questioned, they feel someone is encroaching upon their rights and they argue and defend fiercely, not knowing what they stand for. Just oppose (the current Indian political scenario). The few ‘I’s in every generation who do stand up would not revolt just for the sake of being different or to oppose someone. For them ‘I’ stands for independence, the first step to that being an introspection and understanding of the individual.

  3. anonymous says:

    I think Rajiv has very well said it in terms of survival of fittest and in the same breath i think we can never ask “why don’t we comply” or “why don’t they comply?” because we are made up of genes and it is a battle of survival. So caring about things, as our parents do for us, and trying to think best for ourselves, as we do when we think as much as we can under our bounded rationality, is but natural. And what advertisers do or for that matter businesses do is for their survival and since for this they need to make transactions with others so they will try to make their case as best as possible and hence the need to cash in on the ‘I’.
    I am not aware of the history and if this activity of selling through ‘I’ was not there in the past than may be it is because our genes make a continuous effort to increase longevity by being better adapted to the environment which is possible through learning and experience over time and the people like Tagore or Gandhi or Hitler were a manifestation of better learned genes in their time.
    And this shall continue to go forever and may be develop into such a thing which is a better manifestation of “I”

  4. Anonymous says:

    Do we have a similar “generation gap” in other developed economies ?, take for instance US where the word “i” has been ubiquitous. I think we(Indians) are in stage where our generation is the first one to come out of a shell. With this we have started to question things that our fathers, fore-fathers could not even thing about.
    I think its a sign of a better future where people have started to think and take their own decisions.

    • Miheer Desai says:

      To take the analogy further:
      While responding to a marketing campaign of a product, a good strategy for the rational buyer is
      1) Self-evaluation of products (e.g. iPhone vs Blackberry)
      2) Seeking advice of people who have used those products
      Often times, inferences from 2) dominate inferences from 1) while guiding our purchase.

      The ‘I’ stands for 1) and parents’ views/opinions stand for 2) because their experiences are vastly more meaningful than ours sheerly due to their age. Thus those who are rational amongst us will tend to give a higher weightage to our parents’ opinions, because in the longer term, they serve the interest of ‘I’ better than what ‘I’ thinks.

      But again all this is assuming that the market is efficient, there is no information asymmetry, etc. 🙂 ‘I’ is free to think that his valuation has more merit than the market price or valuation by so-called experienced experts 🙂

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