Thirty years ago, I would have called it unalloyed good news. These days, I have to admit to harboring a few reservations.
I’m talking about the fact that Boston, as the Globe reported on Monday, has become the nation’s youngest major city.
That certainly explains some things. Myself, I’d been worried that we’d been invaded by Canada, what with all the young men trooping around in thick beards, red flannel shirts, and work boots. But that’s apparently just the new “lumbersexual” look that millennial generation males have adopted.
It makes me nostalgic for when I used to live in Idaho decades ago, except that the people who dressed that way back then actually did some lumbering. Every summer, there’d be a festival where those real lumberjacks would compete in axe-throwing, pole-climbing, and log-birling contests. It was great fun, and now that we’ve become a fake lumbering town, I’m hoping we can have a faux lumberjack festival, with an identify-that-craft-brewed-IPA contest and a gourmet-chili-eating competition. And to keep it outdoorsy, maybe even a horseshoe tournament on the Esplanade.
But the emergence of the new, younger Boston has also sparked some anxieties, at least in this baby boomer. As I drove down Charles Street on Monday, I was passed by a fast-pedaling, earbud-wearing twenty-something bicyclist who didn’t even glance up from his phone as he cruised through a red light. Damn, I found myself thinking, all these new young people to watch out for — it’s a lot of additional responsibility to pile on our city’s older shoulders.
Of course, my own rule has long been that I’m driving for two. It’s a little like being pregnant (editor: Scot, how, exactly, would you know?), except that the developing being you’re concerned about is behind the wheel of an oncoming car, perhaps checking his Twitter feed.
Mind you, I’m not casting blame. After all, younger people have been trained by technology to focus on the wonders of the digital world. That said, I wish technology would help solve the problem it’s created. How about an app for times when digital distractions collide with real-world expectations? That app — let’s call it Detecting Other People Everywhere, or DOPE — could cause a phone to emit gentle beeping noises if and when its user stopped to text at the top of an escalator or halfway through a subway turnstile.
I’ve even gotten used to the new idiom here in youthville. Time was, when I’d thank a millennial for a service I was paying for (like, say, computer support or food delivery) and get back a “no problem,” I’d find myself yearning for the simple “you’re welcome” of yesteryear. But I’m over it. So, um, no worries.
My biggest fear is that a younger city may ensconce a disturbing shift in sensibility that’s already underway. Now, I’m not wed to old ways. I’d gladly bid goodbye to the civic surliness that says: What? Someone has put on his blinker in the hope of moving into my lane? Damn, I’d better speed up so they can’t.
But here’s what I dread: The millennials’ over-solicitousness toward those they consider superannuated. Which is say, anyone upwards of 55.
These days, I can’t finish a restaurant meal without a twenty-something waitress loudly chirping: “So I can see we enjoyed our dinner, didn’t we?” as though I were a little deaf and a little dotty.
And when I spent 15 minutes recently moseying around a new furniture store, this exchange ensued.
Millennial sales associate: “Hi there. How are you doing?”
“Can I help you with anything today?”
“No, I’m just looking.”
“Well, it can be a little overwhelming. Just go slow and take it all in.”
Actually, I’ve been in a furniture store before, I wanted to say. And I’m not that easily overwhelmed.
Instead, I just nodded.
But we middle-aged and older folks may soon have to prove that we can still fend for ourselves — especially in this young new Boston of ours.