We Couldn't Know
by Alex Carnevale
It was, improbably, the 1990s. It was not quite the 1990s, and then it became the 1990s. I wrote down the year at the top of my paper that first day of the new decade. We were not entirely assured it was a new decade, but the evidence pointed that way.
The day my house got Prodigy, I went online. "What is this world?" I thought. The AOL chatrooms were another place to go in the world in which you lived.
I grew up, but the world didn't grow up.
In 1996, I read Douglas Coupland's Microserfs, about people starting a new tech company. They could not conceive of how many people the Web would one day employ for no real reason.
These were years of utter happiness when viewed in retrospect. On my first day of high school economics, I marveled at a pie chart showing exactly what kind of nation we were. How a nation subsist when it consisted almost entirely of a service economy?
"How can it work?" I recalled asking, "when it doesn't make anything. When it doesn't do anything?"
There was one sketch on Friends that reminded me of this. After a group meal, the friendlies decide to split the bill six ways. "But you have more money than us," Phoebe whined on behalf of herself, Rachel and Joey, perhaps not understanding she'd be starring in a web series about fifteen years later.
Joey was a struggling actor who became a successful soap opera star.
Monica was a waiter-caterer-chef.
Chandler was an account.
Ross was a paleontologist.
Rachel had no job skills, and went to work in fashion.
Phoebe was a psychic/folk singer/masseuse.
This country now has too many accredited colleges and universities to count, few of which teach any marketable job skills. Many have argued, including myself, that not every person needs a university education: to live in a small room with other confused young people, and share sexual diseases.
Now there is considerable question as to whether we even need universities. Perhaps the wealthy will continue sending their children there, and perhaps inexpensive state schools with massive federal support and huge endowments that don't have to show actual results will benefit. Terrific.
America's system of higher education is pathetic and outmoded. In European countries the educational system is designed for more flexibility and more specialization. It has proven itself a superior approach. Why on Earth would you think everyone requires the same education?
This prolonged adolescence is an undeniable feature of American life. People live longer, so they might have well have multiple financial dependents. Chandler wasted time with Janice - he should have checked her credit history. Ross got married and divorced so many times the loss of income became a cry for attention.
The America I knew is dead. We have no job skills, thus we have no job security. We have South Park, but The Office is unwatchable. I can't watch people make and sell paper, not in these times. The 1990s are the good old days, and they'll never come again. We couldn't know.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here.
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