At some point in our history it was decided that numbers weren’t good enough to keep track of time. All of those pesky years were just too simple and logical and sequential. No, what we needed were complicated, arbitrary names. So we started slapping names on slices of history. Generations, Eras, Ages, all of them were given labels that were supposed to clarify things somehow. Now I’m all for terminology, but at some point we should really agree on how these things work.
Generations, for example, are the worst. The thing that drives me nuts about them is that people always seem to delineate them by years. “Oh, yeah, the Greatest Generation was born between 1901 and 1924.” That’s all well and good, but that means that if Great Grandpa was born in 1901 and had Gramps when he was 20, they would technically be from the same generation. The fact is, the thing that determines your generation is the generation that produced you. Picture a family tree. Everyone on the same row is in the same generation. Was your dad a Baby Boomer? Then you are Generation X. So are all of your siblings, and all of your first cousins. Your kids are the unimaginatively named Generation Y, and their kids are the even MORE unimaginatively named Generation Z. I don’t know what the next generation after that will be, because we’re fresh out of letters. Probably Generation AA, like on a vending machine. Oh, and by the way, “The Greatest Generation”? Seriously? You guys did some awesome stuff, don’t get me wrong, but I think Tom Brokaw may have inflated your ego just a tad. Have some humility. After all, you guys didn’t even have deep fried twinkies yet.
We’ll cut the generations some slack, though. Generations don’t HAVE to have names that make sense. Ages, on the other hand, are the product of archaeologists and paleontologists and various other shovel-wielding lab jockeys. That means that there should be at least some logic to them. Not only that, but since we are arguably getting smarter all the time, the names of the ages should be progressively more apt. This really isn’t the case. First was the stone age. This was the age when we made weapons and tools out of stone. Then came the Bronze Age, a time when we made weapons and tools out of Bronze. Next up was the Iron Age and, you guessed it, there were plenty of iron tools and weapons around. I’m sensing a pattern here, so the next age is going to be steel, right? Nope! The Roman Age, which I suppose implies we were clubbing people to death with Romans and using them to hammer in nails. Then came the Dark Ages. I, for one, don’t think the Dark Ages were that dark. I think everyone was just blinded by flailing Romans. Eventually we hit the Modern Age. This makes sense now, but in about 1000 years, people are going to be just a little bit confused learning about the Modern Age that happened a millennium ago. My social studies teacher actually claimed that another term for our current age is “The Age of New Materials” which not only has the same problem, but makes it look like we can’t commit. Plus, technically EVERY age is the age of new materials when it first comes around. If you were to ask me, I’d suggest “The Plastic Age.” Then at least the people of the future will know who is to blame for all of these non-biodegraded landfills.
Ages are just one type of named time period, though. In fact, there is a whole concept called “Periodization” that deals with the attempt to dice up our history into non-overlapping chunks with neat little name tags. The earth only has so much history, though, and there are a load of people with cool names to apply to things. So they are really slicing time up wafer thin, and the problem is only getting worse. Eras SHOULD be giant swaths of time with unwieldy names, like the paleoproterozoic, that last a billion years. Now there are so many people eager to name things that they are coming up with new levels of time to name. Eons aren’t big enough, we need supereons. Eras aren’t small enough, we need periods, then epochs, then ages, then chrons. And each one gets shorter. At this rate we are going to have sections of time that last fifteen minutes, which I guess we should call Warhols. Anthropologists of the future would have a full time job keeping track of them all… not that they don’t have full time jobs now. I’d hate to alienate the important anthropologist demographic.
As long as everyone is jumping on this band wagon, I’m going to toss my own suggestion out there. We need to name Internet eras. These will be two or three day long blips that are measured by the memes that were hot at the time. Sure, it sounds silly to do that now, but you just wait. Before long there will be people who do graduate theses called “The Lolcat Era: From Chuck Norris Age to Will It Blend Age, a Study of Societal Trending.” And when that time comes, we here at BrainLazy will be waiting with a big fat “I told you so”.