At all times the peculiarities of the younger generation are cause for concern to everybody else, so currently it’s the Millennials who just can’t catch a break. Their work habits, debt levels, and living arrangements are scrutinized and disparaged in the press, on film, and in fiction. Millennials appall some commentators with their supposed hook-up culture while worrying others for not canoodling enough. Just this morning I encountered an article by Millennial author Caroline Beaton at Psychology Today titled “Why Millennials Are Failing to Shack Up: One reason Millennials are marrying later and having sex less.” It joins similarly themed articles in Rolling Stone, The Huffington Post, and even Forbes. The articles often have over-the-top titles such as “Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse’” in Vanity Fair.
Maybe it’s not really an apocalypse. Besides, broad strokes painted of an entire generation are bound to misrepresent large parts of it. Nonetheless, it is apparently true that, statistically as a group, they date less, have less sex, and start having it later than did Xers or Boomers at their age. The “one reason” offered by Beaton (not altogether implausibly) is an excess of apparent choice offered by online dating profiles; they prompt anyone looking through them always to think they can do better. Other articles, at least in regard to hetero dating, note the lack of datable young men: two out of three college students are female, and not all of those remaining one-in-three are “datable” due to other factors, such as that most males are effectively broke. (The top-earning 20% of men are doing better than ever, but the rest have seen steady declines in real income.) Other articles refer to a particularly sullen state of the gender war while still others claim to see an odd sort of neo-Victorianism.
I know nothing of any of this, but it is hard to miss one huge difference from when I was 20: communications technology. That in turn brings to mind a particularly prescient scifi novel by Isaac Asimov published in 1957 titled The Naked Sun. The setting is the planet Solaria. On Solaria individuals live isolated on enormous private estates, but everyone has spectacular communications. Solarians socialize with each other via holographic telepresence, a sort of Skype on steroids. Solarians are utterly immodest while communicating in this VR way. Yet, not only do they prefer keeping physical distance from each other, the very thought of in-the-flesh face-to-face contact with a human being is repulsive to them. Procreation is handled scientifically and antiseptically while robots raise the offspring elsewhere – actually that last part sounds like a good idea. As for carnal desires, robots are available for those too.
We already are halfway to being Solarian in our communications. Have I not seen Millennials in the same room text each other, preferring this to talking? All we need now are better love-bots than the underwhelming models currently on the market; then we can forget about dating altogether. Yes, it would be a form of autoeroticism, but, to steal a line from Woody Allen, that is “sex with someone I love.” Many of us don’t really like other people very much in person, it seems, so, with such a ready market, we might get there soon, and Millennials are well positioned to arrive first.