What did you drive when you turned 20? And how did you drive it? Was it something safe and responsible? And did you drive it safely and responsibly? Me either. That’s why the world is a little crazy right now.
If this century was a person, it would be leaving its teenage years and turning 20. It would be trading up from a third-hand Astra with an odometer like a phone number and a ‘Just Send It’ bumper sticker, and sliding into the driver’s seat of a second-hand Commodore like Han Solo reclaiming the Millennium Falcon. The 21st Century is out there right now lighting up the rear tyres in a cul-de-sac, all abuzz with adrenaline and hormones, and growing a scrappy Chia-pet beard to impress girls and hide its neck acne.
Centuries age remarkably like people. Look at the 20th Century. In its first 10 years, nothing much happened, because it was just a kid. But by the time the 20th Century was a teenager, it was an angry, moody little bugger – a world war alongside an anti-capitalist revolution, a decade of slamming doors and hanging posters of Marx on its bedroom wall.
Things got better in its 20s: it started throwing its newfound cash around, and it looked like the party was going to last forever, until everything got a little crazy and it Prohibited booze for a while. It suffered a bit of Depression in its 30s, and went through a bitterly contested divorce in its 40s, before settling in for a Baby Boom in its 50s.
It experimented with drugs in its 60s and 70s, dyed its hair purple in its 80s and then died in its late 90s while trying to figure out what the internet was. Basically, the 20th Century was your grandmother.
The 21st Century hasn’t reached that level of maturity yet.
Your early 20s are perhaps your finest hooning years: old enough to afford something quick-ish, but not old enough to believe in your own mortality. It’s a giddy time of personal land speed records, and personal speeding fine records. It’s a time for expanding your horizons, pushing the envelope, and staining the back seat. Hopefully with a friend.
But it’s not an age known for prudent forward planning. Which means right now the 21st Century is at that age when it has blown its whole pay cheque on new rims before it remembers the rent is due. It’s at that age when it’s so focussed on the speedo down the straight it hasn’t noticed the hard right turn coming up fast. It’s an exciting time. It’s a dangerous time. It’s often an expensive time.
It’s why insurance premiums for young men are the last legally sanctioned form of discrimination in the country. In no other business is it okay to charge someone more than other customers based on their age and gender; but if you mention insurance to an anti-discrimination lawyer they’ll shrug sympathetically and ask, “Have you actually seen young men drive? They’re out of their freaking minds.”
If you tried to insure the 21st Century right now, the claims adjusters would blanch at the list of dangerous behaviours: droughts, fires, rising sea levels, missed Paris Accord targets, right-wing nationalism, actually releasing the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. If it feels as though the whole world is in a skid right now, headed for the Armco with the wheel twisting uselessly in our hands… well, this century wouldn’t be the first 20-year-old to stick it in the weeds.
But look on the bright side: by the time the 21st Century is in its 30s, it’ll be thinking pragmatic thoughts about depreciation and Isofix points. And by the time it hits 40, it’ll be driving a minivan. Boring for you. Good for the world.
So if things seem crazy right now, just hold on for another year, until the 21st Century throws its 21st birthday. That could get really messy.
And hope it doesn’t drive us off the road in the meantime.