There is a stir afoot over the issue of extended adolescence. The idea is that young people are taking longer to grow up than ever before, and waiting to marry and start a family until their 30s. Many scholars are chiming in on the subject, though I’m really not sure why this would need debate, as the reasons for extended adolescence are pretty clear.
The article from The New York Times, linked above, mentions that adolescence is a stage of life which did not come about until the beginning of the 20th century. It took a while for the concept of an adolescent stage to take hold, but it was inevitable, and society adapted to the thought of teenagers existing. Now, says the article, psychologists want to name this extended period “emerging adulthood,” and there’s much hubbub. Everything’s a sliding scale, and I’d rather not keep creating new names every time our development takes noticeably longer.
And that’s precisely what is happening: We are taking longer to develop, to mature. Gone are the days of old Europe, when a child’s 7th birthday was his passage to manhood (or 13th or whatever ridiculous age). Why is this the case, why can we not start a family at the age of 13?
Well, simply because we’re still in school. There’s a lot more to learn these days, and even more if you want to get ahead. Graduate school is the new undergraduate school, which used to be the new high school (and so on). We must learn in this society to be competitive. If we weren’t learning about business or science or whatnot, we’d be learning about how to care for a family, or be a good spouse. It comes down to the fact that we have to learn.
But more importantly than the fact that we have to learn is that we can learn. We live in a remarkable society which can take care of its youth for up to 30 years or more while they prepare to truly contribute back to the human race. If I may speak figuratively, the human superconsciousness is our mother. She takes care of us and provides for us when we are young, and as she grows stronger she is able to do so for longer. We are caught in a positive feedback loop as we are nurtured better and in turn take care of our youth better. This is one aspect of our exponential progress which will accelerate when we reach the singularity. When we transcend our bodies, economizing the energy that sustains us to such an extent that we need not worry about sustaining our existence, we will all be children. We will be eternally coddled, allowed to explore and continue to grow and never settle down and solidify ourselves.
This does not mean that we will be immature, as immaturity will grow to mean other things. Maturity today means a knowledge of the necessity of duty to others, it means being self sufficient (actually, none of us are self sufficient because we all rely on each other). I think that our desire to work for the benefit of others can only increase with the singularity, but the work/play dichotomy is going to shift when we don’t actually have to work for anything. I personally believe that we will measure our maturity the way we can measure our civilization’s maturity. In this sense of maturity, we are as a species children. We have thousands of nifty technological devices and no idea what to do with them. As a result, we’ve done some horrible damage, and made it easier for bad things to happen in general. Our individual maturity will be measured by these standards as well, our understanding of the consequences of the use of powerful devices. When we learn not to hurt each other, then I will say we have grown up.