I feel like Austin Powers. I just finished my Peace Corps service, and it sort of feels like I spent the last two years frozen and detached from the United States. Here are the top six things that I, a returning American millennial, have noticed after two years abroad without internet.
1) Is it federal law to own a smart phone?
Smart phone and tablet ubiquity sort of shocked me. I figured there would at least be a sizable minority that still had flip phones, but I think I've seen a total of two in the past month. Ultimately, I think this is a good thing, because smart phones are bad ass, but I just want to remind millennials that it is possible to get somewhere without map apps and that if you're sitting across the table from someone, you should stop texting.
P.S. I love Angry Birds.
P.P.S. Can anyone explain to me the market need filled by the iPad mini?
2) Jeremy Lin was the biggest piece of news in the past two years.
About every two weeks, I would leave the jungle and get in a few hours of internet. In two years, several events absolutely exploded on my feeds and go-to news sources: the Arab Spring, the Earthquake in Japan, and Osama's Assassination being among the most memorable.
But I swear that Jeremy Lin totally shadowed these historic events. Like, it wasn't even a contest. There's a whole 'nother article in there somewhere, about media priorities or something, but I'm not touching it, just saying.
3) No one really understands the economy.
People now seem more jaded than depressed about the economy, even though, as far as I can tell, the numbers are a bit better. I've seen this hotly debated by politicians and pundits and members of PolicyMic for the past few months and haven't really come up with a satisfactory answer for myself.
One problem: Maybe I'm just out of practice, but a louder media and busier internet makes it feel more difficult now to do any solid research online. I just want facts, not loud-mouthed opinions. Or hey, maybe the economy hasn't changed enough to take an extreme position on it.
4) TV news is unbearable to watch.
I'm not sure what else to say about this – I'm giving up on TV news.
5) The campaign was unbearable to watch.
And I was only exposed to three weeks of it.
6) We're (apparently) in a golden age of television.
The fact that I haven't seen The Wire, The Walking Dead, Homeland, Breaking Bad, etc. makes people uncomfortable. It seems like the best way to reintegrate into my own culture would be to watch some of these new, apparently amazing shows.
Honestly, though phones are much more powerful and tablets are ubiquitous, but otherwise nothing new has really jumped out and shocked me. However, looking at the country with fresh eyes, I am so, so impressed by it. I spent two years in Panama – a poor country trying desperately to look like a rich country – and despite strides in certain areas, it still looks as “developing” as when I arrived. I keep hearing that America is declining, failing, falling from international dominance, but after a month of walking in a few of its greatest cities, I'm telling you that we are absolutely killing it. At least, relatively.
This is not to say that we should be satisfied – something I love about Americans is our fierce impatience with anything short of perfection – but let's just remember that on the world scale, America is AMAZING, no matter what the haters say.
So, although it hasn't perceptively changed much, and despite all the hating, I've never in my life been so proud to be an American. And I'm downloading as many free apps as I can.