Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Urban Tribes and Rampant Individualists

I recently had an experience with a generation gap that has caused a misunderstanding and sent me to the web to do some research on changing cultural norms.

It was a small matter, really. I sent an Evite to 7 Pagan people to join us at the opening of a new film, with dinner at a local place to follow. A younger friend received the invitation, which was for her and her partner, and then said, "Great, I'll tell my friends." I then had to tell her, "I'm sorry but I'm keeping the party small and the invitation is limited to these folks". She was deeply offended by this, claimed that I did not like her friends and so obviously did not appreciate her, and decamped in quite a huff.


It seems that a lot of single 20 somethings are living now in urban groups, almost tribally, in fact. I've seen this way of life more and more in the last 10 years. Sociologists say this is due, in part, to a lack of positive parental presence and the failure of schools and society to offer them anything meaningful, which has caused them to make their own families out of friends. I find this very creative and familiar (most of us in my age group also had to find "true family" in other places) but I also felt that they have carried this desire for belonging well past my own personal comfort zone.

I talked to another, older friend about this to get his take on it. He thinks this has escalated because these younger folks grew up using cell phones, text messaging and handling all the latest gadgets that help us collect and connect in real time. While I love technology, I only use my cell phone for actual conversations (especially when I am traveling or want to call friends long distance). I personally dislike text messaging. I don't see the point of hanging over a little pad when I have email at home and I have to struggle just to keep up with that. Most of these text messages seem trivial, and pointed towards "Are you there?" and "Where are you?" types of communication. They contain little real information and no ideas, as far as I can tell. It reminds me of teenagers sending notes in class or wolves howling to seek out other packs. That is just fine for some but I have other ways to communicate which work much better for me.

Nor do I use Instant Messaging with my friends(which I see as adding more trivial interruptions to my day)and which threaten the firewalls we have on our computer at work and here at home. Nor do I keep a Live Journal for and with my friends as these folks all seem to love to do. (Again, this is all very creative and seems very much a case of living out loud in public ....and they called us The Me Generation).

I came of age in the mid to late 70's, an era of rampant individualism (and a great time to be female). At 47, I enjoy a wide range of friends and acquaintances, but none of us feel the need to travel in groups or be together all the time . Nor do we define ourselves as one, specific group. My friends and I are all from very different backgrounds, ages, faiths, and our interests vary, as well. These new tribes seem to focus on similarity, especially when it comes to age and race. Our generation grew up mostly segregated and when we got to college we found a multicultural campus and women's studies and had a blast. We believe that the things that make us different - the spaces between - are just as interesting as those places where we connect. We move between cultures and different interests very easily and we have different friends for sharing these interests and a much smaller selection of very close and dear friends, most of whom we've known for many years, who are by and large our equals. As for the couples, well, even if we are married, we do not always feel the need to socialize as a couple, which is very different from previous generations, which did not see women's friendships as meaningful or worth taking time for.

I have another friend I'll call H, who is 38. He is a computer gamer and loves to Role Play so he meets many more 20 something's then I do. He doesn't get this Tribal thing, either. Meanwhile, this younger gal who got so offended is 27 and she seems to live her entire life communally. Apparently, if one loves her, one has to love her friends and all their friends, as well. .....and invite them all along.*

For me, an invitation to a social outing is a like a dinner party, where the hostess will thoughtfully mix and match interesting people she thinks will enjoy each other's company. I would never dream of asking a hostess to invite 4 - 10 extra people along to a party unless I knew it was designed as a large group event or an open house, (and even then,I would ask first and not assume it was OK) but apparently here is a culture gap (especially when it comes to manners) that I wasn't fully aware of.

While I like festivals and such, I'm not a fan of any kind of enforced group-fun, group-think or (what I see as) forced socializing. Maybe it's because I pick my friends carefully and don't like extra drama and trauma (something these groups seem to have in abundance). I've never been much for groups, per se, in any case. I like my own company and enjoy time alone, as much as I enjoy time with my friends, which is another thing that seems a bit different here. As I said, I enjoy friendships with people from many different age groups, cultures, and walks of life and I see them as individuals I relate to, not as packs. Most of my peers handle friendships as I do. So this new form of social interaction was very interesting, and very foreign, to me. I'm sure there are benefits to it for them, it just doesn't appeal to me.

Ironically, this young gal is frequently at odds with various people in this group, has often felt let down by them, and has even described many of them as "parasites" because they live too much off of the abundance of her and the others among them who have jobs. They seem to define "friend" very differently then I do. (By the way, hearing her talk about them like that that hardly makes me want to know them any better.)

It's been interesting dealing with these different (and in some cases, very dysfunctional)new social forms. While I am willing to respect another person's way of living but I'm not willing to compromise my own boundaries or play hostess to a horde. Ironically, one of my friends is in a polyamorous family situation and she feels the same way about this that I do. But then, we are the same age.

So it goes.


* I see this gal's "tribe" (which has rather loose ties) as very different from the polyamorous families I know, which are committed to one another and play by different (and careful) social rules. In such a case, I would happily invite the entire polyamorous family to a party and ask for an RSVP (an sadly endangered courtesy) especially as they might wish to invite newer partners I have not yet met and would wish to include. However, with such friends, I also have the right to invite just one or two of their members to a specific event I think they might like, and I do not treat them all being the same or as joined at the hip.

Book: Urban Tribes:
A sociological examination of the pleasures of a segment of his
generation-the "yet to be marrieds" ages 25 to 39. They're the ones
who live in bohemian garrets yet feel affluent because their baby
boomer parents will probably leave them their money. They host great
New Year's Eve parties and travel en masse to the New Orleans Jazz
Festival. They're the "Burning Man" generation, drawn like lemmings
to the annual desert art festival. Demographers call them "never-
marrieds" and say they're one of the fastest-growing groups in
America. Most tellingly, in Watters's view, the habit of
establishing "urban tribes"-rotating networks of friends and
acquaintances-covers all functions formerly served by the traditional
family, thus eliminating the need for marriage and intimacy. It's
often a white, upper-middle-class, post-college phenomenon (Watters
attends a Philadelphia Cinco de Mayo celebration to which, he notes,
no Hispanics have been invited), but, finds Watters, "groups that
formed later, during the swirl of adult city life, could sometime[s]
match the remarkable diversity of those communities."

No comments: