My own experience as a disaffected youth turned disaffected adult has been (as I’m sure it is for anyone who thinks of themselves in these terms) contrasted with painful frustration and hope.
My first experiences of activism and social dissent looked pretty typical. In late middle school, I began to dress like other kids who exhibited the kind of anti-authoritarian behavior I sought to be a part of so that I could find them and so that they could find (and trust) me. I did not “fall in with” this crowd; I decided that I wanted and needed to become a piece of it. Once there, I found that ideas I thought I’d arrived at totally independently were being mirrored back to me, many with historical context that I did not understand. I had to wonder whether I was chosen to be, as PeeWee Herman said to his co-star in his Big Adventure “A rebel and a loner.” It began to seem to me that my station in life, even as I came to activism, was dictated by my social surroundings.
We didn’t have the same kinds of social media then. AOL Instant Messaging had just come on the scene, and if you had a computer at your home, it was still a status symbol. I collected cassette tapes and resisted CD’s until I could no longer find the edgy music that echoed my pain and rage in cassette format. I refused to own a celular phone until, at age 22, having dropped out of college to attend to a health crisis and moved in with my 32 year old crazy achoholic partner who would not shut up about her glory days in a Joy Division cover band, I needed one for the part time work I found supporting us both by taking care of rich people’s homes and children.
In my mid twenties, I had the experience (one I’ve again heard echoed innumerable times by my peers) of a personal and political renaissance.
“How in the hell did I end up here?” I wondered.
And so began what I have come to experience as a much more conscious foray into dissent. I now actively seek out the historical context for my ideas and understand that they were, in fact, shaped by the culture of which I am a part, whether I want to be or not. I have a facebook and a twitter account. I text message, chat and e-mail as a way to connect with my peers (who I no longer regard as just “people my own age”) both socially and as a way to coordinate the meeting and planning that is so essential to the things I do to feel like I am actively participating in making meaning of the world I live in.